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3.6 out of 5 stars19
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 18 October 2013
In `The Unlimited Dream Company', a disaffected aircraft cleaner and failed itinerant named `Blake' decides, on impulse, to steal a Cessna light aircraft. While flying over Shepperton, he has to put down in the Thames. He is, presumably, dead, but his death seems metaphoric. It's the end of a wrecked life and the start of something great and new, and so we have the start of a fantastic adventure. This Phoenix tale of fertility emerging from tragedy is a recurrent theme in J. G. Ballard's writing.

Actually, it's unclear whether `Blake' is really dead or traversing through this novel in some kind of dream (perhaps resulting from a comatic state), or indeed whether this is just a simple fantasy novel. I think the author is leaving that to the reader to decide, but I for one would favour the dream theory. Hints are given here and there. For instance, at one point Blake refers to "streamers of still flying blood" - suggesting that events are taking place within a dream. In the process of this `dream', `Blake' becomes what could best be described as a spiritual energy force, giving life to the dreary and humdrum suburban surroundings, which are terraformed miraculously at `Blake' sleight of hand into a veritable tropicopia, spawning all kinds of exotic flora and fauna, including brilliant tucans and flamingos and the type of snakes more usually seen in the jungle. `Blake' manages to exoticise the people of Shepperton too. They dream the same dreams as `Blake' and, like him, metamorphose into magnificent birds that are able to soar freely above Shepperton, and sea creatures that swim in the river, thus re-capturing the freedom from ordinariness that `Blake' sought when he first stole the Cessna.

The character `Blake' is also an obvious allusion to William Blake, the famous English poet. The religious, pagan and philosophic parables here are also fairly obvious, including heavy symbolic references to the creation myth (Adam and Eve), the karmic undulations of life, paganism, Buddhism and reincarnation. In `The Unlimited Dream Company', we are all one spirit force, united and in that way restricted - but our collective potential is, thus, `unlimited' in a quite literal sense. Ballard is well-known (and well-liked) as a surrealist author, and the sine qua non of that literary style is the avant-garde. While I certainly knew what to expect here, I must admit that I found much of the cutting-edge stuff in the middle part of the book - in which `Blake' describes his `sexual' fantasies - very difficult reading indeed. Some of it alluded to paedophilia. I suppose I am just a product of my time, but I am disgusted by that sort of thing and so I found those parts of the book nauseous - and I am by no means a sensitive soul or close-minded. On the other hand, I suppose this is a necessary element in the psychological journey that `Blake' has embarked on. Suffice it to say that the term 'polymorphous perversity' could have been invented to describe this novel.

Ballad himself lived in Shepperton and this probably influenced him greatly in writing this work but it's also perhaps important to note that Shepperton is, or at least was at the time this novel was written, a fairly ordinary, though affluent, middle-class suburb, with the added interesting feature of a film studio. I find the very ordinariness of the location quite significant to any analysis. The spiritualist and surrealist interpretation has been worn into cliché in the various reviews of this book: i.e. the protagonist's powers and bodhicitta state of mind puts him in touch with all sentient beings who desire and perfect awakening and enlightenment, etc. But what few - if any - discuss is any possible materialist meaning to be derived from this work. As he seeds life in various ways and also acts as the final repository of all life-forces which he sucks into himself, `Blake' is not just symbolically messianic, but also authoritative. What some might interpret as the exploration of sexual innocence, others might see as licentiousness, which can be used as a manipulative force by powerful figures in society. The jungle seems like a new world, representing the power of dreams in catalysing change, and the people of Shepperton begin to lose their inhibitions and attachment to material things. Only two characters in the novel, `Stark' (the zoo owner) and `Miriam St. Cloud' (a medical doctor) seem sufficiently strong-willed to resist Blake's life-force and are for a time immune to his persuasions. Blake is a sinister kind of demagogue. I must admit to having a very uneasy feeling about this book. One almost has the sense that `Blake' is on some kind of power trip. He does not tolerate disagreement or dissent from the other characters and is capable of quite shocking cruelty.

'Father Wingate', a hobbyist in palaeontology, provides Blake's moral counterpoint and a constant source of justification or encouragement of Blake's actions, no matter how immoral or depraved. When Blake in the end returns back into himself, like an Ouroboros, ready to be re-animated in the future, it is the fossil ground dug by 'Father Wingate' that he chooses. The oneiric `Blake' was able to fly anywhere, but in reality, `Blake' cannot leave and must return to the ground from whence he came, just as we cannot leave and are trapped in our armour-plated, concrete corpse called 'reality'. This may be what death is like and Blake's dream is what happens after death.

Ballard is the `author's author', a logophile whose prose is like word-poetry. Most who read these reviews and pick up a Ballard book will already be familiar with his style, his interest in the surreal and the avant-garde, but just in case you do not fall into that category, a friendly warning: while Ballard was a truly great writer, you should probably give him a miss if you are easily offended.
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on 10 July 2006
As with the majority of J G Ballard's novels, 'The Unlimited Dream Company' gleans it's real power by the final sentence. Drawing on the avant garde approach of the surrealist movement as well as neo-Freudian symbolism, the novel takes the reader on a journey of gloriously unfolding imagery and psychological discovery. It uses the often bizarre, but always dazzling aspects of magic realism to create a complete story of self-sacrifice and discovery. An addage to the pheonix rising from the flames, it ends with a fantastic take on human endeavour and emancipation from the chains of ordinary existence that echoes James Joyce's closing sentences from 'The Dead'.

A work of profound beauty and creative existentialism.

A masterpiece.
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on 5 November 2000
This book is for everyone who likes the magnificent style of Ballard. We have a man in center, who starts of trying to kill his girlfriend, then escapes in a stolen plane. It crashes in a small community. He should have died, but didn't, or did he? It changes him into a pure sexual being. A sexual being that is closer to God, than man. He can now fly, and flying is something man has craved for ever since, he saw birds freedom for the first time. The community want him, and he wants them. Fantastic.
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on 20 May 2012
The most glorious of Ballard's books and the fourth time I've read. It is emotionally moving and profound in a way atypical of Ballard's style where there usually is a certain sang-froid in his approach.

This is a Pagan Passion, exulting in the power of creativity, to usher in new paradigms. The refrain that the vices of the present are seen as metaphors for the virtues of the future repeat and resonate through the book's pages. Old ways of thinking about religion need to be discarded. A pantheistic, pan-sexual, poly-sexual approach advocated.

On another level the book is a metaphor for the dangers of ego-inflation and the transformation that occurs when we leave ego behind, the character Blake as a suburban Bodhisattva, the Amitabha of the retail park.

And like all Ballard's book we are left with the incredible visual imagery, picture burned deep into the imaginative retina.

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on 19 May 2001
An incredible impressionistic dream painting which soars by with a grace and spendour other writers fail to apsire to. Ballard explorers strong ethical and religeous themes in his genetic re-engineering of Shepperton, styled with beguilingly taught yet descriptive prose. Exactly what Ballard is driving at is tough to decipher but the writing is so addictive and the narrative so packed with subtle allusions, shifts and metaphor its a novel which carries you triumphantly to the finish. The more Ballard I read the more I am in awe of the man's genius and incredible visions of contemporary society. Ballard is so good once youv've read one you want to read the rest !
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on 28 November 2015
During the 1970s Ballard published a number of books that were both quintessential New Wave SF and at the same time, hardly SF at all, particularly three powerful novels (Crash, Concrete Island and High Rise). A further novel, The Unlimited Dream Company, followed at the end of the decade. This book is less well known and marks something of a change in direction from its predecessors, though it retains familiar Ballardian imagery and shares thematic content, especially with Crash. While the other novels were essentially realistic, this one could be described as a fantasy, though more of a disturbing surrealist kind than the familiar sort.

A young man called Blake steals a Cessna light aircraft and crashes into the Thames, by the London suburb of Shepperton. A number of local residents observe the crash and these become the main characters in the story along with Blake, the narrator. Blake escapes from the drowned aircraft and enters the care of one of the witnesses to the accident, Miriam St Cloud, a doctor who becomes his lover. Most of the witnesses seem convinced that Blake died and then somehow revived. Blake himself is uncertain and his narrative maintains this sense of uncertainty, allowing us to interpret the events in the novels as actual, if dream-like, or perhaps the fantasies of the dying pilot. In any case, soon after Blake’s escape from the plane Shepperton begins to transform: tropical flora and fauna, especially birds, begin to take over the English suburban landscape; and the inhabitants abandon their normal lives in favour of orgiastic celebrations. Blake himself seems to gain supernatural powers of transformation and healing, becoming a sort of ambiguous messiah for the inhabitants. Incidents of this kind repeat and become more extreme, moving towards a dramatic climax.

Although I found this novel less compelling and stark than the others mentioned, if you like Ballard’s work it is hard not to be drawn in by the vivid prose and striking imagery (though much will be familiar to anyone who has read much Ballard before). Some readers may not find this book a comfortable read. Blake himself is not a sympathetic protagonist: he reveals to us a past as a drifter and criminal, and during the events in Shepperton he appears as impulsive, sociopathic and driven by perverse desires. The novel contains numerous, graphic descriptions of a sexual nature and refers to taboo eroticism and other desires. For others, Ballard’s imagination and prose will be reason enough to read this novel, which has a more poetic flavour than most of his work.

The edition reviewed here includes three “extras”. There is a perceptive and informative 2014 introduction by the philosopher John Gray; a short interview with Ballard from 2008 by Vanora Bennett, author and journalist; and a review of novel by author and academic Malcolm Bradbury, originally published the same year as the novel (1979). All are worth reading if you are interested in Ballard and his work.
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on 2 February 2001
This strange, hauntingly beautiful book finds author Ballard mytholigizing his hometown of Shepperton, England. Blake, the protagonist, has stolen a light aircraft but soon crashes it into the Thames. Emerging miraculously from the submerged wreckage of the plane, he is embraced by the citizens of this small community as if risen from the dead. He soon finds himself vested with messianic powers which he uses to transform Shepperton into a surreal paradise. Cryptically yet powerfully written, The Unlimited Dream Company further justifies the superlatives bestowed upon the work of this fine, underheralded author.
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on 31 July 2013
Having read cocaine nights and empire of the Sun I wanted to carry on discovering J G Ballard's novels.

I loved the constant way in which this book challenges you to grasp with the unlimited dreams that emanate from the central character and how the authors home town can be transformed so creatively post accident.

Four stars
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on 7 January 2016
I was very disappointed in the sense the book that came doesn't match the description. It's from the publishing house Harper Perennial not from Paladin Books.
Additionally the front cover is very damaged with something disgusting on the cover that I don't know what it is.
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on 23 March 2011
Being a huge fan of Ballard's earlier works, but not particularly keen on some of the drug-fuelled surrealist pieces some people love Ballard for, I was put off by the near-random nature of the story. It is a bizarre sequence of events told from the point of view of a character who may or may not be dead, or a liar, or delusional, or godlike. The structure uses a pretty basic Greek-type hubris-leads-to-fall approach, where man has the gall to strive for godhood.

Although this is extremely vivid and immediately drew me in, I soon found it tiresome. A deep sense of the author's self-obsession creeps in and is powerfully evident throughout, as though through some kind of mid-life crisis he desperately conjurs a story, in the first person, where 'I' can become a god with incredible powers, fly like a bird, and have sex with everything I want. The constant desire for the character to molest every living thing he comes across is persistently repeated and very quickly gets tedius - and then suddenly dissolves into nothing two thirds into the book.

The characters however are well defined and interesting, never cliched. The random nature of the story means that their motives are rarely explained though, and at least twice in the story most of the characters completely change their attitude towards the protagonist, Blake (If you like William Blake as a poet, this kind of messianic story will probably appeal to you - I suspect the character is named after the poet as tribute).

After a great first 50 pages, the ending if you get that far is fairly satisfying and almost makes up for its faults during the middle 100 pages. Overall a short and entertaining read, though with plenty of irritations. It isn't nearly as concise, beautiful or mesmerising as earlier books like The Drowned World, The Crystal World or The Drought. If you preferred those of Ballard's works, then you'll enjoy this less.

6.5 / 10

David Brookes
Author of 'Half Discovered Wings'
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