This powerful and often terrifying novel, the fruit of J. G. Ballard's obsession with the motor-car, will shock and disturb many readers. Few products of modern technology excite as much fascination and interest as the automobile, but each year hundreds of thousands of people die in car crashes throughout the world, millions are injured. Yet attempts to regulate the motor-car and reduce this slaughter constantly meet with strong and almost unthinking resistance. Ballard believes that the key to this paradox is to be found in the car crash itself, which contains an image of all our fantasies of speed, power, violence and sexuality. 'Three years ago, I held an exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory in London,' he says. 'People were fascinated by the cars but I was surprised that these damaged vehicles were continually attacked and abused during the month they were on show – watching this, I decided to write Crash.'
The novel opens with the narrator recovering in hospital after a serious car crash in which he has killed the husband of a young woman doctor. In his pain-filled dreams he finds himself dominated by strange sexual fantasies, and he determines to find the real meaning of this horrific experience. When he leaves hospital he revisits the scene of the crash, and meets the woman doctor. During their affair they begin an exploration of the motor-car in all its forms, attending stock-car races, watching test vehicles being crashed, conducting a variety of sexual experiments on London motorways. They meet a violent and aggressive figure called Vaughan, a 'hoodlum scientist' who seems determined to die in a car crash with a famous film actress. Terrified of Vaughan, and yet under his spell, the narrator is carried closer to the sinister climax of the novel, a disquieting vision of the future in which sex and technology form a nightmare marriage.
Violent and frightening, but always true to its subject, Crash is above all a cautionary tale, a warning against the brutal, erotic and overlit future that beckons us, ever more powerfully, from the margins of the technological landscape.