Crash by JG Ballard Book Review - Kristopher Cook Illustration

Crash by J.G. Ballard

Crash by J.G. Ballard Book Cover
In Ballard's hallucinatory novel, the car provides the hellish tableau in which Vaughan, a 'TV scientist' turned 'nightmare angel of the highways,' experiments with erotic atrocities among auto crash victims, each more sinister than the last.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible

Crash, by J.G. Ballard, was first published in 1973. One of the reasons the book is still talked about today is because of David Cronenberg’s film adaption, which similarly caused a mass controversy upon release. This was especially true in both the UK and the US.

‘… the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape.’

J.G. Ballard

Ballard even goes as far as stating, ‘I would still like to think that Crash is the first pornographic novel based on technology’. An intriguing gesture to peek inside the front cover if ever I did see one.

It’s these grand signals and ambitious claims that give the story it’s seemingly surreal intentions, whether intended or not.


Crash tells the story of James Ballard (named after the author) and how he comes to cross paths with Dr Robert Vaughan, a demon speeder on the London highways.

Around Vaughan is his group of misfit friends, all of which are car crash victims in one way or another, who help him to re-enact celebrity crashes. It’s car crashes that cause sexual excitement amongst them, resulting in a lot of perverse car sex.

From the start, it’s made aware that Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy would be to die during a head-on collision with movie actress, Elizabeth Taylor.

And that’s pretty much it for crash.

There are no noteworthy sub-plots, no character arcs, just a lot of automobile fornication, both in and out of the vehicles.

Ballard has gone on record as stating that he feels Crash was ‘written by a madman’, and then realising he’s that madman. He also claims that it could be the result of trying to justify his wife’s death and how he was going to cope.


‘A paraphilia in which sexual arousal involves staging and watching a tragedy, such as a fire or a traffic accident,’

Money, J (1984)

In this case, Vaughan and his friends have a sexual fetish for car crashes, whether accidental, staged or purposeful.

Neo-Mechanical Erotic Poetry; probably the best way, and possibly the only way, to describe Crash’s style.

But the main problem with this is…

Crash isn’t a well-written book that glides by in an elegant erotic way that Irene’s Cunt does but is more a full-on hardcore porno projected onto a 20ft screen.

It’s gaudy, it’s tasteless and its main purpose is to shock.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of curiosity and clusters of tension, but they are few and far between. Most of the styling of this book becomes repetitive, and towards the mid-point, it starts to feel like déjà vu. These moments are there to convey the similarities between our own soft bodies and the hard exterior of technology.

Really though, how many times can you make ejaculating onto a dashboard interesting?

A Note on the Film

Back in the days when Channel 5 (UK) was starting up, it used to show ‘edgy’ movies to draw in its audience. At the time I was about 12 and going through that stage of wanting to see as much sex as possible, if not for learning purposes.

Remember, this was pre-internet days, at least in my house, so I put on the TV late one night and stumbled across the opening scene of the main character ‘engaging’ with one of his female staff.

My interest was peaked and this was surely my night.

However, what started positively quickly descended into a Freudian nightmare.

Car crashes left and right, people seemingly aroused by such incidents and a maniac character that would scar me for years.

I’m glad to say, in the years that have formed my adult life I’ve recovered and since revisited the movie.

I can safely say that it dies a similar death as the book; it’s plain boring; especially considering the premise.

Closing Thoughts

In the end, it’s a shame that the grand promises never come into fruition. What could have been a clever and interesting read, turns into, at times, a boring and remote trudge.

Sure, parts of Crash are unique and mildly exciting but that’s about the best you’ll get.

Take this as a warning; Crash is not for the faint-hearted or the literary reader. It falls far down the cracks in the gaping abyss between.


Money, J (1984). “Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification”. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 38 (2): 164–78. PMID 6234812

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