A high-tech business park on the Mediterranean coast is the setting for crime of the most disturbing kind in this extraordinary new bestseller from the writer widely regarded as Britain's No 1 living novelist -- author of Cocaine Nights. Paul Sinclair and his bright young wife Jane drive down to the south of France in his vintage Jaguar so that she can take up a post as doctor to the new community of Eden-Olympia, just above Cannes. Multinational companies and their sharpest executives have converged on this high-tech business park, tempted by its location and facilities, by its efficiency and its security, and by something far more disquieting. According to its resident psychologist, Wilder Penrose, the community is 'a huge experiment in how to hothouse the future...an ideas laboratory for the new millennium'. In such a place, he claims, one is absolutely free to 'board the escalator of possibility'. Jane does just that. But Paul hesitates before boarding, pausing to look around. He finds what he sees mystifying and unsettling; when he learns that he and his wife have been housed in a villa whose previous occupant had been driven to massacre notable executives on a horrific shooting spree, he begins to look under the surface. For all the dawn-to-dusk hard work, for all its productivity and profits, Eden-Olympia is the venue for games of the most serious sort. So Paul joins in...On one level Super-Cannes is a romantic fable of a husband's search for a lost wife. But far larger issues are involved that go to the heart of a new kind of social pathology. J.G. Ballard, Britain's most consistently daring and surprising novelist, has again brought his powers of discovery and dissent, curiosity and wit, to a tale as pacey, gripping and illuminating as his previous bestseller, Cocaine Nights.
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J.G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai, where his father was a businessman. After internment in a civilian prison camp, he and his family returned to England in 1946. His 1984 bestseller Empire of the Sun won the Guardian Fiction Prize, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and later filmed by Spielberg. His novel Crash was made into a controversial film by David Cronenberg.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One The first person I met at Eden-Olympia was a psychiatrist, and in many ways it seems only too apt that my guide to this `intelligent' city in the hills above Cannes should have been a specialist in mental disorders. I realize now that a kind of waiting madness, like a state of undeclared war, haunted the office buildings of the business park. For most of us, Dr Wilder Penrose was our amiable Prospero, the psychopomp who steered our darkest dreams towards the daylight. I remember his eager smile when we greeted each other, and the evasive eyes that warned me away from his outstretched hand. Only when I learned to admire this flawed and dangerous man was I able to think of killing him.
Rather than fly from London to Nice, a journey as brief as a plastic-tray lunch, Jane and I decided to drive to the Cote d'Azur and steal a few last days of freedom before we committed ourselves to Eden-Olympia and the disciplines of the Euro-corporate lifestyle. Jane was still unsure about her six-month secondment to the business park's private clinic. Her predecessor, a young English doctor named David Greenwood, had met a tragic and still unexplained death after running amok with a rifle. By chance, Jane had known Greenwood when they worked together at Guy's Hospital, and I often thought of the boyishly handsome doctor who could rouse an entire women's ward with a single smile.
Memories of Greenwood were waiting for us at Boulogne as the
Jaguar left the cross-Channel ferry and rolled its wheels across the quayside. Going into a tabac for a packet of Gitanes - illicit cigarettes had kept both of us sane during my months in hospital Jane bought a copy of Paris Match and found Greenwood's face on the cover, under a headline that referred to the unsolved mystery. As she sat alone on the Jaguar's bonnet, staring at the graphic photographs of murder victims and the grainy maps of the death route, I realized that my spunky but insecure young wife needed to put a few more miles between herself and Eden-Olympia.
Rather than overheat either Jane's imagination or the Jaguar's elderly engine, I decided to avoid the Autoroute du Soleil and take the RN7. We bypassed Paris on the Peripherique, and spent our first evening at a venerable hotel in the forest near Fontainebleau, spelling out the attractions of Eden-Olympia to each other and trying not to notice the antique hunting rifle on the dining-room mantelpiece.
The next day we crossed the olive line, following the long, cicada miles that my mother and father had motored when they first took me to the Mediterranean as a boy. Surprisingly, many of the old landmarks were still there, the family restaurants and literate bookshops, and the light airfields with their casually parked planes that had first made me decide to become a pilot.
Trying to distract Jane, I talked far too much. During the few months of our marriage I had told my doctor-bride almost nothing about myself, and the drive became a mobile autobiography that unwound my earlier life along with the kilometres of dust, insects and sun. My parents had been dead for two decades, but I wanted Jane to meet them, my hard-drinking, womanizing father, a provincial-circuit barrister, and my lonely, daydreaming mother, always getting over yet another doomed affair.
At a hotel in Hauterives, south of Lyons, Jane and I sat in the same high-ceilinged breakfast room, unchanged after thirty-five years, where the stags' heads still gazed over shelves stocked with the least enticing alcohol I had ever seen. My parents, after their usual bickering breakfast of croissants and coffee helped down by slugs of cognac, had dragged me off to the dream palace of the Facteur Cheval, a magical edifice conjured out of pebbles the old postman collected on his rounds. Working tirelessly for thirty years, he created an heroic doll's house that expressed his simple but dignified dreams of the earthly paradise. My mother tipsily climbed the miniature stairs, listening to my father declaim the postman's naive verses in his resonant baritone. All I could think of, with a ten-year-olds curiosity about my parents' sex-lives, was what had passed between them during the night. Now, as I embraced Jane on the parapets of the dream palace, I realized that I would never know.
Cheval might have survived, but the France of the 1960s, with its Routier lunches, anti-CRS slogans and the Citroen DS, had been largely replaced by a new France of high-speed monorails, MacDo's, and the lavish air-shows that my cousin Charles and I would visit in our rented Cessna when we founded our firm of aviation publishers. And Eden-Olympia was the newest of the new France. Ten miles to the north-east of Cannes, in the wooded hills between Valbonne and the coast, it was the latest of the development zones that had begun with Sophia-Antipohs and would soon turn Provence into Europe's silicon valley.
Lured by tax concessions and a climate like northern California's, dozens of multinational companies had moved into the business park that now employed over ten thousand people. The senior managements were the most highly paid professional caste in Europe, a new elite of administrators, enarques and scientific entrepreneurs. The lavish brochure enthused over a vision of glass and titanium straight from the drawing boards of Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry, but softened by landscaped parks and artificial lakes, a humane version of Corbusier's radiant city. Even my sceptical eye was prepared to blink.
Studying the maps, I propped the brochure on my knee-brace as Jane steered the Jaguar through the afternoon traffic on the Grasse road. The stench of raw perfume from a nearby factory filled the car, but Jane wound down her window and inhaled deeply. Our disreputable evening in Arles had revived her, swaying arm in arm with me after a drunken dinner, exploring what I insisted was Van Gogh's canal but turned out to be a stagnant storm-drain behind the archbishop's palace. We had both been eager to get back to our hotel and the well-upholstered bed.
The colour was returning to her face, for almost the first time since our wedding. Her watchful eyes and toneless skin were like those of an over-gifted child. Before meeting me, Jane had spent too many hours in elevators and pathology rooms, and the pallor of strip lighting haunted her like a twelve-year-olds memories of a bad dream. But once we left Arles she rose to the challenge of Eden-Olympia, and I could hear her muttering to herself, rehearsing the risque backchat that so intrigued the younger consultants at Guy's.
`Cheer me up, Paul. How much further?'
`The last mile - always the shortest one. You must be tired.'
`It's been a lot of fun, more than I thought. Why do I feel so nervous?'
`You don't.' I pressed her hand against the wheel, steering the Jaguar around an elderly woman cyclist, panniers filled with baguettes. Jane, you'll be a huge success. You're the youngest doctor on the staff, and the prettiest. You're efficient, hardworking . . . what else?'
`You'll do them good. Anyway, it's only a business park.'
`I can see it - straight ahead. My God, it's the size of Florida . . .'
The first office buildings in the Eden-Olympia complex were emerging from the slopes of along valley filled with eucalyptus trees and umbrella pines. Beyond them were the rooftops of Cannes and the Iles de Lerins, a glimpse of the Mediterranean that never failed to lift my heart.
`Paul, down there . . .' Jane pointed to the hillside, raising a
finger still grimy from changing a spark plug. Hundreds of blue ovals trembled like damaged retinas in the Proven~al sun. `What are they rain-traps? Tanks full of Chanel Number S? And those people. They seem to be naked.'
`They are naked. Or nearly. Swimming pools, Jane. Take a good look at your new patients.' I watched one senior executive in the garden of his villa, a suntanned man in his fifties with a slim, almost adolescent body, springing lightly on his diving board. `A healthy crowd . . . I can't imagine anyone here actually bothering to fall ill.'
`Don't be too sure. I'll be busier than you think. The place is probably riddled with airport TB and the kind of viruses that only breed in executive jets. And as for their minds . . .'
I began to count the pools, each a flare of turquoise light lost behind the high walls of the villas with their screens of cycads and bougainvillaea. Ten thousand years in the future, long after the Cote d'Azur had been abandoned, the first explorers would puzzle over these empty pits, with their eroded frescoes of tritons and stylized fish, inexplicably hauled up the mountainsides like aquatic sundials or the altars of a bizarre religion devised by a race of visionary geometers.
We left the Cannes road and turned onto a landscaped avenue that led towards the gates of the business park. The noise from the Jaguar's tyres fell away as they rolled across a more expensive surface material milled ivory, at the very least - that would soothe the stressed wheels of the stretch limousines. A palisade of Canary palms formed an honour guard along the verges, while beds of golden canvas flamed from the central reservation.
Despite this gaudy welcome, wealth at Eden-Olympia displayed the old-money discretion that the mercantile rich of the information age had decided to observe at the start of a new millennium. The glass and gunmetal office blocks were set well apart from each other, separated by artificial lakes and forested traffic islands where a latter-day Crusoe could have found comfortable
refuge. The faint mist over the lakes and the warm sun reflected from the glass curtain-walling seemed to generate an opal haze, as if the entire business park were a mirage, a virtual city conjured into the pine-scented air like a son-et-lumiere vision of a new Versailles.
But work and the realities of corporate life anchored Eden-Olymp...
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