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"Losers of worlds at heaven's bidding,
This review is from: Millennium People (Paperback)
Watching the Devil kick the Millennium
Over the Golden Mountain." Edgar Lee Masters
"Millennium People" has an interesting story line. Set in the UK shortly after the Millennium, psychologist David Markham is mourning the murder of his ex-wife. She was the victim of a terrorist bombing at Heathrow Airport. Determined to get to the bottom of the matter he begins his own personal investigation. He quickly finds himself thrown into a strange world: a world filled not with foreign interlopers from abroad or proletarian rebels but, rather, one filled with disaffected tea-sipping, Volvo-driving, over-extended mortgage holding members of the British middle classes. For reasons explained in the book they are just fed up, prisoners of their own success apparently. And, contrary to what one would expect of a stereotypical British member of the bourgeoisie, they seem easily led to increasingly violent acts. Finally, Markham meets the `hidden hand' behind the angst and from there the story comes to a rather dramatic conclusion.
By the time I was one-third of the way through J.G. Ballard's "Millennium People" I was reminded of Lindsay Anderson's 1968 movie If... (The Criterion Collection) in which a young Malcolm MacDowell play a privileged teen who, chafing at the oppression of an old, elite English boarding school, leads a group of children of the middle and upper classes on a violent revolt. Millennium People struck me a story of what those teens might get up to if they had decided to rebel against their stolid, middle class, middle-age surroundings. I soon became convinced that the book reminded me of Paddy Chayefsky's Network, where people, once again mostly middle class start chanting "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." By the time I was finished, when the Millennium People took its last twist and turn, or descent if you will into a study of madness, I was sure that it shared some literary DNA with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
These shifting comparisons represent for me both the enjoyment and disappointment I had with Millennium People. Weaving three themes through a book is not all that unusual and when it works it can be brilliant. But, when they don't connect, when the individual themes don't seem well-integrated than I think that leaves room for a bit of disappointment. That was the difficulty I had with Millennium People. At the end of the day I think of a book in which the individual parts were greater than the whole. While the book was a pleasure to read, as Ballard's books typically are, I felt a bit unsatisfied. Now this dissatisfaction is not the sort I feel when I read a `bad' book. Rather, it is the slight disappointment I feel when I read a book that is filled with terrific passages, with good writing and thoughtful insights into the human condition but which does not quite live up to the expectations that those passages and insights provide.
As noted, I admire Ballard's work. Although perhaps best known for Crash and Empire of the Sun I think his best work can be found in his short stories. His The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard show Ballard at his finest. I think coming to Millennium People after his short stories may be responsible for my slight disappointment. His short stories are masterful, compact, and powerful. All in all, I would recommend Millennium People to any reader. Despite my disappointment I was far from sorry that I read the book. It kept me engaged throughout. It just didn't quite live up to the promise of its individual themes.
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Initial post: 20 Apr 2012 22:25:00 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
I am grateful to you for your site which has brought so many classic and unusual books to my notice. Thank you Leornard Fleisig.
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