[written June 2012]
It’s Ballard who gives the best outline of this particular book:
‘The Unlimited Dream Company is set in Shepperton where I live, and it’s about a young pilot who steals a light aircraft and crashes into the Thames [river], and who, in a sense, dies. [He has] drowned in his aircraft, but frees himself by an enormous effort of the imagination, and through the effort of his imagination transforms Shepperton into a kind of Edenic paradise, full of exotic plants and animals.’
I know I’ve given the book a three star rating (this may change “Bitches in Bookshops” style given time (postscript: this has changed over time)), which along with the majority of Russell Hoban books I’ve rated, doesn’t mean to come off as complete indifference. As with Ballard’s Crash and the aforementioned Hoban books, this book was powerful enough on the first read to stay with me for the next decade. Mostly due to the fact that The Unlimited Dream Company is quite esoteric in the overt symbolism throughout which I really like. The central figure is a drowned pilot who has dreams of turning into animals, which in turn, as quoted above, is the catalyst for the strange events which take place in Shepperton. There are characters and pieces of dialogue which were striking to read. It’s more a Blakean poem than the other media generation apocalyptic novels Ballard is known for on a surface level. In this novel the culture presented isn’t terrifically specific, more universal: man’s inner paradise of imagination vs the deadness of reality/society which surrounds him.
For me, some of the best lines of dialogue across film/literature/theatre is contained in this novel when Blake tells Miriam he will make flowers from her various parts of her body*, which called to mind the dialogue in Angela Carter’s apocalyptic novella Heroes and Villains. In many ways this book also reminded me of Ted Hughes’ Gaudete, going so far as acting as a key to better understand Gaudete. Both contain a central figure who challenges the environment around them, both are held in two places at once: living and dead, hidden. The dualistic primitive yet spiritual nature of brutal, ‘deviant’ sexuality is presented as an act to birth an awakening of sorts, something which is positive in Ballard’s novella and can be seen as more destructive in Hughes’ poem.
Both texts also complement each other in addressing the shamanistic role of the writer. I think all writers utilise (/subvert and play with) their experiences to underpin their fiction, whether these are real life events or half daydreams, and why? To what purpose if not to inform, entertain, communicate and express an idea or thought or feeling, and interact with the reader on some level. There are probably countless interviews by Hughes on this, but for the purpose of this post, Ballard touches on that role nicely as well:
‘In many ways I feel that, without realising it at the time, that I was writing a piece of my autobiography, that it’s about the writers’ imagination, and in particular, my own imagination. Transforming the humdrum reality that he occupies and turning it into an unlimited dream company.’
(quoted J. G. Ballard comes from this interview with him that took place in 1993: http://vimeo.com/23066777)
* The quote in full (and what a stunning couple of lines at that):
‘Miriam – I’ll give you any flowers you want!’ Rhapsodizing over the thousand scents of her body, I exclaimed: ‘I’ll grow orchids from your hands, roses from your breasts. You can have magnolias in your hair…!’
‘And in my heart?’
‘In your womb I’ll set a fly-trap!’