J. G. Ballard, 2000
the fifteenth book in the visitor recommendation series;
suggested by Sam Barlow
I don't have much to say about this one, but what little I will say spoils the whole thing, since Super-Cannes is a mystery that gets solved in the middle and I can't really talk abut it without giving away the solution. So. The story here is that this graying pilot is injured in a crash, and ends up marrying the much-younger doctor who treats him. She gets an invitation to move to Eden-Olympia, a luxurious compound on the French Riviera where top executives at transnational corporations both live and work. She will be Eden-Olympia's pediatrician. There is an opening for a pediatrician because the last pediatrician went on a homicidal rampage and killed ten people. Once they arrive, the pilot, having nothing to do while his wife is at work, starts poking around and discovers that something doesn't add up. For instance, the killer was supposed to have killed seven VIPs and then run back to his house and killed three lowly staffers he had taken hostage for some unexplained reason… but there's no way he could have covered that distance.
Lots of clue-gathering, theories that lead to dead ends, etc. It eventually turns out that the supposed murderer did kill the VIPs, and he did so because Eden-Olympia was a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The executives all had half a dozen nagging illnesses all the time, and Eden-Olympia's psychiatrist theorized that the cure was, basically, Fight Club, except outwardly directed. The transnational vice presidents should head down into town and beat the hell out of some Arabs or rape some prostitutes or suchlike, and those persistent head colds would clear right up. He seemed to be correct — everyone got well, and the psychopathy cure became very popular. The psychiatrist gave them assignments: you become a crack dealer, you start a racist political party, you knock over jewelry stores. The pediatrician started fucking his pubescent patients, then pimping them out, and then became so disgusted with the whole business that he decided that a bloodbath was the only solution. But he didn't get everyone — in particular, he didn't get the psychiatrist — and now it's all starting up again, and the pilot has to figure out what to do.
What most struck me about this book was that it felt like a movie, and I don't mean that as a compliment. The movie would be billed as a "psychological thriller," and it would probably have Ricky Jay in it. There would be a "welcome to Eden-Olympia" sequence that would feature heavily in the trailer. "Am I crazy, or is this place not what it seems?" our hero would ask, and his wife would assure him that everything was fine. (This exchange would also be in the trailer.) There would be lots of Everything You Know Is Wrong moments as Harry Lennix leads the hero through the clues, and we would go back and forth from moment to moment about whether Harry Lennix was a bad guy and about whether Ricky Jay was a bad guy. Finally Ricky Jay would give his big speech about the salutary effects of psychopathic behavior, but the purpose of the speech would be less to give us ideas to mull over in the days and weeks to come than to serve as Things an Evil Psychiatrist Would Say. I feel like in saying this I am obligated to take a few days to go through the text and nail down exactly why I got this impression, but as noted, I'm not going to have time for that sort of thing for the next while. But I know what the texture of a genuinely cerebral novel feels like, the way that it encourages you not to turn the page but to linger where you are and dwell on the ideas from which the narrative is woven. I also know what the texture of a cinematic "psychological thriller" feels like, the way it's built on momentary glimpses of this or that, on reversals and reverse-reversals that only work so long as the film is whipping along at 24 frames per second. And Super-Cannes feels like the second one.