On my bookshelf: Cocaine Nights – JG Ballard

JG Ballard has been on my ‘authors to read’ list for such a long time and got nudged to the top when I saw that the film adaptation of High Rise comes out later this year, directed by the genius that is Ben Wheatley. As I very rarely buy new books, I am at the mercy of the charity shop goddesses as to what turns up and luckily for me, Cocaine Nights was on the 50p pile a few months ago. It’s shiny, shiny cover and intriguing blurb lured me in and yet it still sat on my bedside table for weeks and weeks before I finally turned the first page. I often get an almost unwilling anticipation when reading a new author or title that I’ve got high expectations about, putting it off incase of disappointment. My first Ballard certainly did not disappoint, and left me eager to read more, so I’ll be sending out ~vibes~ to the local hospice shop for High Rise to turn up soon…

The plot of Cocaine Nights builds slowly until by the middle of the book you are whisked into the madness of this community in southern Spain. Without any spoilers, we follow Charles, travelling to the resort of Estrella del Mar after his brother, who has been living there for some years, has turned himself in for attempted murder, burning down a mansion with the family trapped inside. In trying to find out the truth of what happened on that night, Charles becomes embedded in the expat community of Estrella and gets involved in things much darker than he ever could have imagined.

This is one of those novels that gets me so entwined in the story and the landscape that the ending came as a surprise, and I was left turning over the back pages looking for more, I wanted to see what happened to this sick community and what would happen next. Even several weeks after closing the back cover, I’m still thinking about the themes and the ideas that Ballard presents*. This is a novel about community, about human nature, social spaces, audiences and living in an environment where the pursuit of pleasure comes above all things. Where feeling alive can push emotions to the extreme. It’s also funny, and comes with a sly dig at the expanding communities (and waistlines) of British expats, retiring to sunny Spain for ‘the good life’ and living anything but.

Cocaine Nights is one of Ballard’s last novels, and maybe it’s been a good introduction for me, a warm-up before getting into the psychosexuality of Crash…


*Reading up on Ballard led me to find out that Ballardian is even in the dictionary:

“resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments” – which explains what I’m trying to say rather more eloquently than I’ve put it!

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