Concrete Island J.G. Ballard (Jonathan Cape) J.G. Ballard lived in a suburban west London house with a car slewed across the drive. Short of a rusting wreck he couldn't have had a more appropriate business card. Ballard was born in Shanghai and died on April 19 at 78. Between those two events he created a singular canon of works prefiguring dreary dystopias in which we can all share. Often mis-labelled science fictional, Ballard's future elicited not planets of aliens but an alienating landscape of high-rise blocks, highways to hell, pathological consumerism and CCTV cameras. Sound familiar? Look around you. His most celebrated books might be Crash (1973) and Empire of the Sun (1984), but Ballard was hardly a two-trick pony. He followed Crash, the provocative pile-up-as-sex-aid novel that became the eponymous David Cronenberg film, by staying on the highway and producing Concrete Island. Not that protagonist Robert Maitland does the same: the architect's speeding Jaguar bursts through a barrier after a tyre blows out on a London motorway. The car careens down an embankment, leaving a dazed Maitland marooned on the titular traffic island. Here our hero's surreal predicament starts to crystallise. Below three converging motorway routes and beyond the surveillance-camera eyes, Maitland is trapped by two crumbling embankments and a wire-mesh fence barring access to a municipal dump. Through no small effort he escapes, but even back on the roadside, as carbon monoxide poisoning destroys his reasoning, he is either invisible in the dusk or ignored by drivers indifferent to the lethal foxtrot for victim and vehicle teasing him across the carriageway. The result is ineluctable, Maitland's injuries, this time, more than cosmetic courtesy of the hurtling sports car that propels him back down an embankment. At the mercy of flimsy mental resources he arrives at a realisation shared by other Ballard boys: 'the assumption ... made repeatedly', in his case that he would inevitably be rescued, 'was completely false, part of that whole system of comfortable expectations he carried with him'. The island is the archetypal Ballardian (bleak, modern, man-made) dystopian landscape in which the psychological effects of technological and social developments bring their weight to bear. Jerked out of his routine and without figurative signposts, Maitland is ensnared in an 'endless field-day' offered to any 'deviant' personality strains. Lost in the margins of the mundane, so near and yet so far from anywhere, he is stuck in a 20th-century Robinson Crusoe morality fable, his island somewhere among the motorway tentacles of Ballard's 'conformist suburbs' ruled by television. And for those, Dante might have invented an entirely new circle.