Identifying the island with himself, he gazed at the cars in the breaker's yard, at the wire-mesh fence, and the concrete caisson behind him. These places of pain and ordeal were now confused with pieces of his body. He gestured towards them, trying to make a circuit of the island so that he could leave these sections of himself where they belonged. He would leave his right leg at the point of his crash, his bruised hands impaled upon the steel fence. He would place his chest where he had sat against the concrete wall. At each point a small ritual would signify the transfer of obligation from himself to the island.
He spoke aloud, a priest officiating at the eucharist of his own body.
'I am the island.'
The air shed its light.
British novelist J. G. Ballard's novel is one of the numerous re-writings of Robinson Crusoe. Ballard takes the well-known story of a shipwrecked man and relocates it into the modern, busy setting of industrial London.
An ordinary working man, Robert Maitland, is driving home from his London office when his car crashes through the motorway barrier onto a desolate traffic island below several major roads. He discovers that none of the drivers in the rush-hour traffic are willing to stop for a strange man on the side of the motorway (would you?). Injured and growing weaker by the hour, he is soon unable to escape by himself.
The novel describes Maitland's solitary survival struggle and gradual dominion over the "kingdom" he is forced to live in. The psychological struggle matches the physical one: Maitland falls into the trap of every self-centered modern individual as he starts to actually believe in the superiority of humans over environment and mind over matter.
He eventually begins to hallucinate and identify the island with himself. However, just as Robinson Crusoe's island did not remain an isolated paradise/prison forever, neither is Maitland's island quite as uninhabited as he thinks...
Ballard's novel criticises the negligent blindness of modern humans, but it is also a psychological study of the survival mechanisms within the human mind. In the end, escape into the ordinary world becomes less important than the recreation of the self, the wonder of survival and control.
A strange, thought-provoking novel.
J. G. Ballard: Concrete Island. Vintage. 1994.
Wikipedia: Concrete Island