Reviews of Drowned World, the (1962)
Review by ropie (2009-07-03)
I found The Drowned World rather a difficult book to engage with all the way until the end. Perhaps this was Ballard's detached New-Wave style of prose, or maybe it was the vague nature of the characters, who never really became anything substantial (with the exception of the exuberant ring leader, Strangman).
Despite this there was some very impressive imagery relayed, particularly the lagoons that used to be central London, with the forgotten landmarks still visible a few feet beneath the surface of the clear water. When Strangman drains a dammed-off area around Leicester Square, the sense of the lost city as nothing more than a silty memory, full of stranded over-grown sea creatures, was quite powerful. The fact that a small act of vandalism near the end of the novel breaks the dam wall and re-fills the hole left me with a feeling of the irreversibility of the change in the environment and, of course, the power of natural events.
In some ways it reminded me a lot of Hothouse, though Ballard did not then have Aldiss' grip on the inevitability of the obscure, nor is there any trace of the humour which permeates that novel. Rather, Ballard, presents the facts of the transformation and imbues it with a sense of a change in the psychology of the remaining humans, much as one might find in a textbook.