May Books 19) Miracles of Life, by J.G. Ballard

In reality there are two Cambridges, the faculties on the one hand – history, physics, archaeology and so on – where research, lectures and laboratory work take place, and the colleges, which are residential clubs that provide poor food, a small amount of often poor teaching and the bulk of the myths about the Cambridge lifestyle. I was very happy with the first, and bored stiff by the latter.

This is a brilliant book – passionate, opinionated, reflective, sometimes angry and occasionally self-critical; fascinating on the details of life in Shanghai before and during WW2 (a fifth of his life, which takes up almost half of the book).

Empire of the Sun comes back towards the end, with an account of how Spielberg made the film of Ballard's book about his wartime experiences, but apart from that there is a lot of interesting reflection on how he became a writer, why in particular he chose science fiction – shown as a fairly calculated choice rather than instinct – and the rewards of being a parent to three children. It's rare I would say this of a book, but I actually wished it had been twice as long.

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