Concrete Island by J. G. Ballard — Reviewed by Guy Portman
35-year-old architect Robert Maitland is driving along the orbital road, Westway, in London, when he loses control of his Jaguar, ploughs through the barriers and plummets onto an underpass. Having injured his leg in the crash, our protagonist, unable to make it back to road, finds himself stranded on this concrete island. Initially he assumes that the crash must have been noticed and that the authorities will soon rescue him. When this does not happen he attempts to catch the attention of passers-by, but this is to no avail. A febrile Maitland faces physical torment, including acute hunger, but he also has periods of psychological contentment. Maitland is not alone in this underworld. There are two residents — a capricious socialist called Jane and an ungainly simpleton by the name of Proctor.
There are obvious parallels between Concrete Island and Robinson Crusoe. Rife with similes, this is an allegorical story about isolation, in which the underpass can be viewed as a metaphor for the forgotten, invisible people on the lowest strata of the capitalist social order. How society functions is a recurring theme in Ballard’s writing.
Whilst this reader was intrigued by the premise of this cautionary and concise tale, there were occasions when he struggled with the awkward, analytical prose, such as the mechanical-minded author’s very specific description of car components.