The Kindness of Women
is a 1991 novel by British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
author J.G. Ballard. A sequel to his 1984 novel Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun is a 1984 novel by J. G. Ballard which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Like Ballard's earlier short story, "The Dead Time" , it is essentially fiction but draws extensively on Ballard's experiences in World War II...
, which drew on the author's boyhood in Shanghai during World War II, The Kindness of Women
presents a lightly fictionalized treatment of Ballard's life from Shanghai through to adulthood in England. It culminates in the late 1980s with the making of Steven Spielberg's movie based on Empire of the Sun
. A non-fiction account of the same experiences can be found in Ballard's autiobiography, Miracles of Life
Miracles of Life is an autobiography written by British writer J. G. Ballard and published in 2008.-Overview:The book describes Ballard's childhood and early teenage years in Shanghai in the 1930s and the early 1940s, when the city is ravaged by the Second Sino-Japanese War and W.W.II...
It was first published in the UK by HarperCollins
HarperCollins is a publishing company owned by News Corporation. It is the combination of the publishers William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd, a British company, and Harper & Row, an American company, itself the result of an earlier merger of Harper & Brothers and Row, Peterson & Company. The worldwide...
and in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Farrar, Straus and Giroux is an American book publishing company, founded in 1946 by Roger W. Straus, Jr. and John C. Farrar. Known primarily as Farrar, Straus in its first decade of existence, the company was renamed several times, including Farrar, Straus and Young and Farrar, Straus and Cudahy...
The Kindness of Women
is semi-autobiographical, and discusses Jim's departure from China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...
, where he had been born and had been interned, to visit England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
, other parts of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...
and the USA
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
Jim is obsessed with two themes throughout the book: sex, and death. Sexual encounters (and there are a lot) are described in the most clinical, cold terms. The act of sex becomes a dispassionate observation of the male and female genitalia. Too often Jim is unaroused, and has to be "worked on" by his female partner. It is as unsettling to read as the dissection of his female cadaver at Medical school.
Death haunts the pages of this book. When Jim leaves the Japanese camp at the end of the war, he is 15 years old and alone. He witnesses a murder of a Chinese clerk at a railway station, a slow, casual murder, committed by a Japanese soldier in the immediate aftermath of the Atomic bomb. Jim cannot intervene; he knows he, too, could be killed in just as casual a manner. As he walks away towards Shanghai, Jim's life has changed forever.
Jim tries and fails to find a niche in post-war England. Failing to complete his studies as a medical student, he decides to be a pilot. But his motives are strange: convinced that World War 3 is around the corner, he wants to be one of the bombers, carrying his own "pieces of the sun" to annihilate and, more importantly, to recapture the light he saw at the railway station, where the Chinese clerk died.
He finds happiness in his wife and children but, as a young father and husband in the 1960's, he becomes aware of a certain trend towards violence and the ever-intrusive camera lens. This leads him to believe that the world has become desensitized to the violent images they see on the TV screens day after day: Kennedy's assassination in particular, and the images being screened from Vietnam. He sees people morbidly interested in car crashes. Watching and filming instead of helping becomes the norm.
The title refers to women who helped him after the death of his wife, but Jim's view of life is distorted and strange. This makes him ideal material for LSD experiments, but he soon dismisses this. His view of humanity is that of a constant need to view lives and violence, and indeed, sex, through a camera, via TV. And just look at Big Brother.
This avuncular, puppy-eyed father who brought up three children on his own, and who loved every moment of it, has shown Jim to be a man verging on madness. But, is he Jim? This is the problem and the genius of the book. Where truth and fiction meld and become one.
Ballard has declared that the book is the story of his life "seen through the mirror of the fiction prompted by that life".
- Rossi, Umberto. “Mind is the Battlefield: Reading Ballard's ‘Life Trilogy’ as War Literature”, J. Baxter (ed.), J.G. Ballard, Contemporary Critical Perspectives, London, Continuum, 2008, 66-77.