Books Read in 2014 – 28. Running Wild – J. G. Ballard (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Crime

Narrative Style: First Person reports on Pangbourne Massacredownload (7)

Rating 3/5

Format: Hardback

Published 1988
Synopsis: All the adults at expensive gated community Pangbourne are dead and all the children have disappeared. Richard Grenville is the psychologist called into investigate. The novella begins two months after the massacre. 

After two months, when no terrorist groups have laid claim to the Pangbourne Massacre, the home office calls in Dr. Richard Grenville and asks him to investigate. He takes the reader through the crimes and the theories surrounding them in a clinical and professional way so that it is possible to be both detached and disturbed by them.

When one of the children reappears, in a catatonic state, Grenville realises who the culprits are. She is clearly disturbed by what has happened and reporters assume this is due to the treatment of her kidnappers. However, Grenville realises that it is because she is one of the murderers herself. He then revisits the scene of the crime and works out the exact events.

To be honest, it was fairly apparent straightaway that the children were to blame. There lives were filled with love and approval but were also stifling. They had no freedom – except as Grenville points out – the freedom to escape into madness. For me, the obviousness of this, meant that the novel lacked suspense.

That said, the issues raised by the novel are certainly interesting. One of the reasons that the public never believe in the theory that the children are to blame is that on the surface, their lives are perfect. They want for nothing. Who wouldn’t want the constant affection of one’s parents, never arguing and having nothing to rebel against. But teenagers need to rebel, regardless of whether there is anything real to rebel against.

The crimes at Pangbourne are fascinating, not just to the public and press in the novella but to the reader as well. They hit at what we all want to avoid thinking about. Children are brutal, to each other and to their parents. They have a savagery that we like to believe we can civilize. This is those in authority persist in viewing the massacre as an act of terroris, even though that is patently absurd.

This is well written and the ideas are good but I did feel that it became a bit pointless as it went on because of the obviousness of the culprits. The ending – when the teenagers attack a former prime minister – felt a bit forced. Although it could be taken as an interesting metaphor for the way that youth and the next generation remove what has gone before.

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