After enjoying [b:High Rise|70256|High-Rise |J.G. Ballard|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1170723892s/70256.jpg|2270643]
so much, we went on a bit of a spending spree and bought several [a:Ballard|2889561|J.G. Ballard|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1254084247p2/2889561.jpg] novels to follow it up. In part because it was recently the work book club choice (although I'm not actually a member) [b:Cocaine Nights|862090|Cocaine Nights|J.G. Ballard|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1365514142s/862090.jpg|1232081]
was the first one out of the pile. As with High Rise
this is the tale of something we think we know, British ex-pats moving to Spain, but somehow corrupted beyond our expectations by some trigger event. With High Rise
it was the loss of power; with Cocaine Nights
it is the presence of the tennis coach – Bobby Crawford.
Charles Prentice arrives at Estrella de Mar to rescue his brother Frank, who has been wrongfully imprisoned for the starting a house fire that killed several people in the resort. Except when he arrives he is confused to discover that while almost everybody claims to believe Frank couldn't have committed the crime, his brother has already confessed to the police; and when Charles presses him to explain himself refuses to allow him to visit any more. Charles decides to launch his own investigation and is drawn into the community of Estrella de Mar – its residents, its clubs and committees, and its surprising underbelly of exciting crime.
Estrella de Mar isn't like any of the other resorts. Instead of tired ex-pats hiding away in their apartments watching satellite TV, it houses a vibrant community of friends who party, learn tennis, have affairs; and as we slowly realise sell drugs, engage in prostitution and commit petty thefts. They don't though, burn down their friends houses with their friends inside. Instead of clearing his brother Charles comes to understand (he thinks) how Estrella de Mar is such a success, and he starts to buy into Bobby's ideas of the link between crime and creativity. The resort has to maintain a low-level of crime in order to get people out of their apartments and forming committees and becoming active. The problem that Charles seems to miss is that, like the drugs that are circulating, the low-level crime slowly stops being enough. Eventually you need a larger event to push the community over the edge and into a permanent state of activity and creativity. Was the fire just such an event, and if so, why is Frank taking the blame for it?
While the story is delightfully clever and sociopathic, the book does feel a little slow in some of the middle sections. Whether this was Ballard's attempt to slow the conversion of Charles Prentice down a little (it does seem a little fast even then) or not I don't know, but I quite liked the speed with which Charles was won over. To me it added more credence to Bobby's cult-like charisma. The whole resort have been taken in, if Charles takes too long to join in it feels like he's being convinced through rational arguments. The speed makes much more of a statement that it's almost somehow viral. That just by being in Estrella de Mar and being in contact with all the other residents, he could get caught up in the whole thing within a matter of weeks.