Eden-Olympia is more than just a multinational business park, it is a virtual city-state in itself, built for the most elite high-tech industries. Isolated and secure, the residents lack nothing, yet one day, a doctor at the clinic goes on a suicidal shooting spree. Dr. Jane Sinclair is hired as his replacement, and her husband Paul uncovers the dangerous psychological vents that maintain Eden-Olympia's smoothly-running surface.
The plot involves Paul Sinclair, a former airman recovering from a plane crash, who accompanies his young wife Jane to an ultramodern business park on the French Riviera, where she is to work as an on-site physician. Paul gets drawn into uncovering the mystery surrounding Jane’s predecessor, who went on a killing spree and murdered ten people before being killed himself.
At first the place seems paradisiacal, full of rich happy people like something from the 30s – ‘a vanished world of Cole Porter and beach pyjamas, morphine lesbians and the swagger portraits of Tamara de Lempicka’. But something is very wrong at the Eden-Olympia complex: in each tiny, everyday detail there is an undercurrent of cheap sex, casual violence, sickness. (It is very Lynchian in that sense: god I wish Lynch would film this.) ‘Over the swimming pools and manicured lawns seemed to hover a dream of violence,’ we are told at one point; but often the hints are more subtle and unnerving. Innocuous body parts become creepy and upsetting as Ballard describes them:
My exposed big toes unsettled her, flexing priapically among the unswept leaves.
I love this sentence so much. It makes me laugh at how ridiculous it is, while also making me shudder because it works. There is more lurking menace when Paul and Jane arrive at their new home:
The house was silent, but somewhere in the garden was a swimming pool filled with unsettled water.
—Actually let me just stop there for a second so we can appreciate that admirable sentence. Doing a lot of work, isn’t it! Direct but efficient. Ballard goes on:
Reflections from its disturbed surface seemed to bruise the smooth walls of the house. The light drummed against Jane’s sunglasses, giving her the edgy and vulnerable look of a studio visitor who had strayed into the wrong film set.
The reference to the movie business is an example of Ballard’s tendency to choose his similes and metaphors from the realms of modern technology and celebrity culture. The world of Super-Cannes is not natural but rather scientific, medical: a flag flutters ‘like the trace of a fibrillating heart’, the sea is ‘smooth enough to xerox’, every hair on a fur stole is ‘as vibrant as an electron track in a cloud chamber’, crowds of tourists clump around the shop-fronts ‘like platelets blocking an artery’.
This is only the third or fourth Ballard novel I’ve read, but I’ve never enjoyed his cold, efficient prose style more than I did here. Some writers explore themes; Ballard dissects them, using a scalpel. Like his main influence, William Burroughs, and his main disciple, Will Self, Ballard sees social problems as a matter of pathology: sexual perversion for him is about psychosexual dysfuction; casual violence is about clinical psychopathy. This medicalisation can make for an eerie worldview, but it gives you some descriptive passages you wouldn’t get from any other writer. And for once, I genuinely cared about the characters here – I was really rooting for Paul and Jane to get out in one piece.
As well as being a mystery story, this is a stonking novel-of-ideas, and the main idea is this: if the modern world is making us all less sociable and more atomised, what might the psychological consequences be? Because the madness and violence at Eden-Olympia are intimately tied to the erosion of community that Ballard sees around him:
People find all the togetherness they need in the airport boarding lounge and the department-store lift. They pay lip service to community values but prefer to be alone.
The Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the future won’t walk out of the desert. They’ll emerge from shopping malls and corporate business parks.
I’m not sure I entirely accept Ballard’s thesis, or his speculation that ‘meaningless violence may be the true poetry of the new millennium’; but then I don’t think he does either – it’s thrown out there as a way of working with the issues. Watching him at work, scalpel in hand, is disturbing, thought-provoking, and enormously enjoyable.
This novel revolves around a gated capitalist paradise, Eden-Olympia. Eden-Olympia, with its ornamental ponds, sports centres and cafes, is a hi-tech business park nestling in the hills above the French Riviera, home to the new elites of major multi-national companies like Siemens and Mitsui etc. Its inhabitants, monitored by surveillance cameras and guarded by the complex's own security force, have no need or time to interact with the larger community. All that matters is the accumulation of wealth, work and company profits have eclipsed the need for play.
Into this capitalist paradise arrives an ex-RAF pilot and his wife. Paul Sinclair is recovering from injuries to his knees sustained in a botched aeroplane take-off where he was the pilot whilst his wife Jane is a youthful paediatrician with a taste for the occasional recreational drug. Jane is to replace David Greenwood, a doctor who some months earlier had rampaged Eden-Olympia with a rifle killing 10 people before dying himself himself. Because of his injuries, Paul finds himself with plenty of free time on his hands which he increasingly spends alone due to Jane's burgeoning work schedule. Smelling a conspiracy Paul, an prompted by resident psychiatrist Wilder Penrose, turns sleuth trying to uncover why David Greenwood, whom his wife knew back in Britain as a mild mannered doctor, turned mass murderer.
As Paul delves under the skin of Eden-Olympia he discovers a serious programme of violence, designed and promoted by Penrose, to counteract executive stress in which Arab pimps and Senegalese trinket merchants are left bleeding in the gutters and robberies committed. Sinclair is appalled by the criminality he uncovers but also feels a grudging admiration of the rationale behind it and finds himself unable to inform the Police or tear himself away.
This is a well crafted novel and the action progresses at a good clip meaning that the reader ends up caring for Paul and willing as he sinks further into this murky other world that he will not only wake up and come to his senses but also actively do something to halt it it's expansion. Twisted Penrose is a well written villain, an "amiable Prospero", the anti-hero of this insular little world, viewing the encouragement of baser instincts as an engine to drive the arts, sciences and industries of the world who treats those around him almost as clockwork toys, to wind-up then sit back and revel in the havoc that they cause. On the whole I really enjoyed it yet it also missed that little something that would have made this a really good read.
On the surface, you'd think you were reading a murder mystery. From beginning to end, Paul Sinclair tries to uncover the answers to why an acquaintance, Dr. David Greenwood, one day went crazy and shot several co-workers & then himself at a corporate business park called Eden-Olympia situated on the Cote d'Azur in France. But in reality, what is under that mystery is more disturbing. Sadly, I cannot reveal more because it would totally wreck the suspense & give away show. At Eden-Olympia, the people all live in beautiful luxury homes complete with maids, pools, a top-notch security group & perfect health. Jane Sinclair, a doctor from Maida Vale, has accepted a temporary assignment in which she would replace Dr. Greenwood. She and her husband Paul, who crashed his airplane and broke his knees and was mended as much as possible by Jane in England, move into the area, in fact, into David Greenwood's old home. The first thing Paul notices (since he's not working and just hangs out at home) is that there is no sense of community in this community. No one socializes. Everyone stays in behind their closed doors. Totally bored, and entranced with the idea of seeking out the answers to what was up with Greenwood, he begins investigating. What he finds is a secret locked behind the corporate doors of Olympia-Eden.
However, I cannot and will not divulge what goes on in this book. I can say that it was a thoroughly engrossing read from beginning to end. Personally, I liked this book where a lot of people haven't. It is bleak look at the future, to say the least.
Ballard is a genius and this work is a genuine thriller with a brilliant twist at the end.
The plot: a husband with time on his hands accompanies his wife when she is appointed staff physician to the futuristic office park. He gradually discovers that the well-tailored suits in the air-conditioned offices cover animal natures full of lust and violence.
The flaw: who cares? Knowing what our corporate masters do between nine and five as a matter of public record—their insistence on appropriating the gains accruing to their ventures while socializing the losses, their use of state power to maintain their privileges, the bland uniformity of speech and behavior they impose on their servants—how bothered should we be about what some of them may be getting up to after hours? We have the Wall Street Journal; what need for the National Enquirer?
(And, I have to say, although similar to Cocaine Nights, I found this one to be far better)