Kingdom Come is smart, surreal, dystopian, predictive and exhausting. This is J.G. Ballard’s final shot across the bow, warning us about the slippery slope of mindless consumer culture and the intellectual wasteland of our various suburbias. For me it was preaching to the choir—I don’t surrender my will or my time to the vast unlettered hordes—at least when I can help it. No football mania here. No leisure time dedicated to mall shopping. No search for a dubious “leader” to make sense of a senseless existence for me. But no immunity from that dangerous malaise either.
I live in a corrupt society in which words and music are devalued, art is a commodity, shopping confers meaning and your social position is defined by what you have. It would be utterly deceptive to pretend I wouldn’t love a silent, spacious multi-bedroom apartment in a “good” building, or a couple of pricey designer jackets to throw over a pair of faded jeans, or a fabulous flat screen on which to watch Downton Abbey. Retail therapy is a term not unknown to me—but this story takes ennui and acquisition to extraordinary depths. Ballard creates a hell in the once bosky communities that ring central London. The denizens of those towns are captive to the Metro-Centre, an inflated British version of the Mall of America and an insidious presence at the heart of a dark conspiracy.
Richard Pearson has been edged out of his London advertising job by his ambitious ex-wife. His estranged retired airline-pilot father has been gunned down in a mall rampage in Brooklands, the home of the Metro-Centre. Brooklands has a virulently sports-crazed population, plenty of racism directed at its growing Asian immigrant populations, an obsession with a soaps actor who is the 24-by-7 broadcast king of the mall, and a cadre of duplicitous, seemingly ordinary citizens who may—or may not—have had something to do with dad’s death. When Pearson travels to Brooklands to deal with the estate and the burial arrangements, he is hooked into finding out what really happened and whether or not his father’s death was the random incident the police are claiming.
Kingdom Come is seriously creepy. The entire suburban world is so vacant, sinister and deranged it’s hard to fathom why Pearson doesn’t just take his modest inheritance and get out. But he pokes around and lands in the thick of nasty things. Everyone seems to be hiding the truth from him. Neighbors living near his father’s flat are inexplicably afraid of him. Someone sticks a powerful bomb in the back seat of his beloved vintage car. The cops are oddly detached when it comes to solving homicides or containing riotous marauders after weekend sporting events. The mall looms over all of life like Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Evil emanates from its highly visible dome and multi-storied walls. The toxic tide will not recede before swamping the countryside, destroying lives, property, civic tranquility and any illusions people are foolish enough to harbor.
Was pilot-papa a clandestine Nazi? Is the psycho who rants against the evils of the mall a killer? Are doctors healers or are they dispensers of death? Can a new refrigerator solve your life? What is true and what is left to us in the moral wasteland of mall culture? And is Richard so dumb he doesn’t realize what his relentless marketing campaign is doing to society? Ballard nailed it but you’d have to be really thick not to know this stuff already. Kingdom Come is both a warning and an indictment. Read it and weep.
Kingdom Come: A Novel J. G. Ballard | Liveright Publishing (First American Edition) 2012