Millennium People Hardcover – 15 Sep 2003
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The peasants, goes a tedious old joke about Wat Tyler's mob, are revolting. In JG Ballard's unnerving, prophetic novel Millennium People, however, it's the middle classes that are staging the revolution: blowing up the NFT, burning their books and defaulting on their maintenance charges. Rejecting, in short, everything that they've worked so hard for--The Bonfire of the Volvos, as one rather droll chapter heading has it.
At the forefront of this petit bourgeois insurrection are the occupants of Fulham's Chelsea Marina, (as ever with Ballard) an exclusive housing community. Led by the charismatic Dr Richard Gould, a disgraced paediatrician turned "Doctor Moreau of the Chelsea set", Marina residents Kay Churchill, a former film lecturer; civil servant Vera Britain and Stephen Dexter, the parish vicar and an injured airman (another Ballard perennial) have unleashed an arson campaign against targets deemed suitably middle class.
David Markham, a psychiatrist and the book's steely narrator, is drawn into the Marina's inner circle after his ex-wife Laura is killed in an apparently meaningless bomb attack at Heathrow airport, (prime Ballard territory, of course). Meaningless is the insistent motif: Markham's current wife Sally was crippled in a freak accident and the murder of a banal if inoffensive television presenter (loosely modelled on Jill Dando) is one of the seemingly random violent acts unleashed by Gould, precisely because of their apparent randomness. "The absence of rational motive", as he says, "carries a significance of its own".
A master of sustained unease, Ballard has again excelled in fashioning a gripping, psychologically disturbing novel, that, like High Rise or Super-Cannes, is part cultural analysis and part surreal social prediction. --Travis Elborough
Praise for ‘Super-Cannes’:
‘Sublime…The first essential novel of the 21st century.’ Independent
Praise for ‘Cocaine Nights’:
‘Britain’s number one living novelist. This adds a glinting new facet to his achievement – Ballard, detective-novelist extraordinary.’ Sunday Times
Praise for ‘The Complete Short Stories’:
‘Compelling…one of the most haunting, cogent and individual imaginations in contemporary literature.’ William Boyd, Mail on Sunday
Esquire – Sept 2003
"Ballard, acutely fierce as ever, detonates a bomb under Middle England in his continuing attempt to shock the middle classes out of complacency and into violent struggle"
Bookseller – 20 June 03
"[Ballard's] work has lost none of its power to disturb. Millennium People dissects a society without purpose, in which a population is numbed by an infantilising culture and invigorated only by the appeal of violence…"
Daily Telegraph – 23 August 2003
"…a horribly riveting work from a writer of rare imaginative largesse, a bearer of bad tidings unforgettably told."
Literary Review – Sept 2003
"Once again Ballard offers a masterly portrayal of a society coming apart at its civilised seams. And his text shimmers with the totems of modernity… There's still no disputing that Ballard is one of the most intelligent, important and thought-provoking writers this country has to offer. He tackles the modern human condition like no other writer. It is only a matter of time before Ballardian enters the English language."
TLS – 5 September 2003
"One of the novel's most successful aspects is the plausibility with which Ballard sketches the possible crossovers between political motivation and motiveless sociopathy, and Markham's attempts to resolve both the situation and his own mind are also rendered with a convincing giddy energy, as the plot moves to an inevitably violent conclusion."
The Independent – 6 September 2003 (article entitled 'Dystopian Rhapsody')
"Millennium People is a Thames-side thriller which opens with a bomb that explodes at Heathrow…The attack on Terminal 2 turns out to be the work, not of Islamic terrorists, but of British professionals… Britain's middle-classes are the 'new proletariat'…
Few writers find poetry in burning Heathrow freight offices and car-rental depots: Ballard can…. Ballard is a moralist apparently troubled by the shape of things to come and a literary saboteur of unswerving fierceness… Millennium People will compete with the best of contemporary British fiction."
Evening Standard – 1 September 2003
"Reading it is like having all the planks that underpin your life removed one by one and being forced to confront the brutality and emptiness that lies below"
Guardian (Magazine) – 6 September 2003
"Millennium People is a wonderful miasma of Ballard land."
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Top Customer Reviews
Characters in Millennium People are far more sophisticated than a Ballard reader might expect. From the mysterious Richard Gould to the fiery Kay Churchill this improvement in characterisation helps convey the many messages in the story. What Messages? Well as usual, themes are around society, psychology, philosophy and politics, but instead of being deduced from the outcomes of the plot (as you might with say, High Rise), the morals come directly from the characters mouth and being the ever naive and passive David Markham, you get to hear everyone's side of the story.
The development around middle-class society, violence and even the meaning of life is very well handled and kept interesting and relevant with a twisting, mystery plot to which you're always trying to guess the ending whilst grappling with the challenging questions the characters ask of you and Markham.
To summarise, this is exciting, accesible, thoughful, sophisticated, interesting and enjoyable. It has the feel of an author reaching perfection with the complexity of The Atrocity Exhibition combined the atmosphere of High Rise...
...and to top all of that, this edition from the nice people at Harper-Perennial comes with a lovely jacket and an interview thingy at the end so read it and enjoy!
The intriguing feature of this novel though is that the uprising is by the comfortable middle classes who appear to have everything they need. And here is the rub - this security and comfort is possibly a fiction , an illusion to keep the status quo of a controlling society. The 'chains' here are not tied by others, the rules are not imposed from without; the imprisonment of the middle class is entirely of its own making. In 'Millenium People' it is never made entirely clear what is wanted to replace things after the revolution; we just have rebellion for its own sake. The middle classes have comforts in abundance so what is lacking? Are they being hoodwinked into conformity and passivity? Is their obsession with rules a symptom of masked fear and insecurity? Whatever, Ballard certainly invites the reader to ask these sort of questions and to take a look at current social phenomena from a different perspective. The writing here is disquieting - cosy views are being challenged.
In the novel, random and meaningless acts of violence can be interpreted as attempts to kick back against a stultifying and deterministic universe. Perhaps there is a deep resentment of too much safety, security and comfort.Read more ›
The initial twist in 'Millennium People' is that the Heathrow bomb plunges Markham into a world of middle class revolutionaries and agitators who may or may not have planted the device. Markham allows himself to be sucked into the front line of all manner of protests as he seeks to penetrate this new class of anarchist, where a simple argument over double yellow lines in Chelsea is inflated into a man the barricades issue.
There were two moments of extreme bravery in the novel when Ballard touches upon the Hungerford massacre when a man named Michael Ryan went crazy in the town with an AK-47 and also the murder of tv presenter Jill Dando. When I read these sections of the book, everything seemed to be in slow motion, as if I was reliving the original news reports of those real-life tragedies. When a writer does that to you, the importance of the novel is beyond doubt.
If you like this book I would recommend any other Ballard novel - especially 'Super Cannes' and 'High Rise' which both demonstrate the collapse of middle-class loyalties to the establishment.
Despite the absurdity of civil unrest in Chelsea, the novel raises some thought-provoking points about a paranoid, over-worked, and spiritually redundant UK society. Overall I enjoyed reading The Millenium People, although I was left feeling slightly annoyed by the Range-Rover-driving characters and I wished a few more of them had been victims of their own bombs.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book reads like a psychiatric case study, interesting as such but an otherwise sickening and implausible plot, featuring disturbed characters driven to violence.Published on 17 Mar. 2013 by Audrey Fisk
Watching the Devil kick the Millennium
Over the Golden Mountain." Edgar Lee Masters
"Millennium People" has an interesting story line. Read more
I enjoyed the novel's central conceit - the focus on a middle class rather than a proletarian revolution - which produced some wittily incongruous scenes. Read morePublished on 30 July 2010 by Sarah A. Brown
It seems with Ballard you either like his brand of stark social comment or you don't, and this book just doesn't work for me. Read morePublished on 26 Aug. 2009 by Phil O'Sofa
I'm a bit disappointed with this book. It's readable, but not riveting. It raises a worrying prospect, but not as well as some of Margaret Atwood's work. Read morePublished on 12 April 2009 by harriot arbuthnot
If it's a satire, it's lacking wit, insight and humour, and if it's not satire it betrays a staggering naivete. Read morePublished on 28 July 2008 by Bryan
If you like Ballard's themes of what happens when polite society breaks-down then you'll love this book - if you don't ... then you won't!
I loved it. Excellent stuff.