Book Review: J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition / by Neal Auch

J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition is a book that reads like an art exhibit.  

This book is devoid of most of the ingredients that normally comprise literature.  The bulk of the novel is divided into individually titled paragraphs; these function rather like the individual pieces that comprise an art exhibition in that these fragments are thematically connected, but do not comprise a linear narrative in any sense.  Rather, the reader's eyes are allowed to meander about the page, focusing on fragments that attract her attention, ignoring others, darting back and forth throughout the book as desired.  It's difficult to give a sense of what the individual "pieces" that comprise this novel are like.  Here I've quoted one paragraph in its entirety to give a sense:

Go, No-Go Detector.  These deaths preoccupied Tavers.  Malcolm X: the death of terminal fibrillation, as elegant as the trembling of hands in tabes dosalis; Jayne Mansfield: the death of the erotic function, the polite section of the lower mammary curvature by the glass guillotine of the windshield assembly; Marilyn Monroe: the death of her moist loins; the falling temperature of her rectum described in the first marriage of the cold perineum and the white rectilinear walls of the twentieth-century apartment; Jaqueline Kennedy: the notional death, defined by the exquisite eroticism of her mouth and the insane logic of her leg stance; Buddy Holly: the capped teeth of the dead pop singer, like the melancholy dolmens of the Brittany coastline, were globes of milk, condensations of his sleeping mind.

The book carries on in this spectacular fashion for some 100 pages, or so.  (The final few chapters abandon this structure for reasons that are not clear to me...)

The effect of The Atrocity Exhibition is remarkably like the feeling of wandering about an art museum.  Indeed, not only is this book structured like an art exhibition, the emotional impact of each "piece" on me was similar to the effect of consuming visual art.  I found myself lingering over the more compelling fragments for much longer than I would spend on a paragraph in a conventional novel.  It seems that without the drive of a plot to carry one forward, the mind tends to drift into introspection and abstraction.  I have read this book several times now and find myself returning to it from time to time as a source of inspiration.