Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Empire of the Sun


One of my favourite films is 'Empire of the Sun' so when I entered the FITG challenge, I made sure to include the book on my list. Based on J.G. Ballard's own childhood, this novel tells the story of a boy's life in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. A story of war, starvation and survival.

I found it hard to rate this book and even harder to review it. I found this book an uncomfortable read, not in a 'it made me want to blind myself' but more in a 'got under your skin and stays with you' sort of way. So I suppose I could call it 'profound'. There is no doubt that this book is a mesmorising read, and once I hit my stride, I read the book in a night. It's a strange mixture of autobiography and fiction, which makes you wonder where Jim starts and Ballard begins (thankfully my edition had an essay by Ballard summing up his experience which gives you further insight).

Because of my love for the film, it's hard for me not to compare and contrast. The book is definitely much darker and deeper than the film. Through the language, Ballard portrays subtle nuances about situations and hidden depths to characters (minor oneces especially) which could never translate to screen. We're more connected to the world and to Jim with the book. Jim's hunger, hallucinations and desperation to survive in the cruel world of Shanghai and the camps resonate more, with the language of the book reflecting his state of being.

Yet, although in some aspects I felt closer to the world of Jim via the book, I found the book didn't resonate or have the impact that I felt the film had for me. Perhaps Jim's numbness translated more via the text, but I felt no emotionally connection to the people in Jim's world like I did with the film. In the book, there is just a sort of desperation which in the end isn't as nicely or touchingly resolved/relieved like in the film. There is no happy reunion with his parents only this: "Jim had wanted to explain to his parents everything that he and the doctor had done together, but his mother and father had been through their own war. For all their affection for him, they seemed older and far away".

Ballard is an exceptional writer and the book in itself is excellent, if only for the impact it has on you as a reader. It won't touch the heart like the film does, but certainly this book will resonate with you. So I'm giving it four moons!



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