The Stars in the Bright Sky

Scott Hames writes:

‘Airports,’ J.G. Ballard noted, ‘seem to be almost the only form of public architecture free from the pressures of kitsch or nostalgia. As far as I know, there are no half-timbered terminal buildings or pebble-dashed control towers.’ Alan Warner isn’t a novelist you’d expect to be much interested in the departures hall, being best known for a sort of wild provincial fabulism. Each of his first five books is saturated with ‘place’, using skewed dialect and surreal local legend to transform tourist traps (usually in the Highlands, but with occasional trips to the Costa del Sol) into strangely heightened fictive worlds. His towns tend to ignore the tourist gaze, rich with their own gossipy lore. Gatwick Airport is therefore an incongruous setting for the sequel to Warner’s third novel, The Sopranos. Airports do the opposite of what his novels do, annihilating intimacy and a sense of place. Only a very mulish futurist could accept Ballard’s vision of the airport as the ideal urban space (‘the concourses are the ramblas and agoras of the future city … where briefly we become true world citizens’), but his wilful celebration of its hinterland has its reflection in Warner’s The Stars in the Bright Sky. ‘In addition to the airport itself,’ Ballard wrote,

I value the benevolent social and architectural influence that a huge transit facility such as Heathrow casts on the urban landscape around it. I have learned to like the intricate network of perimeter roads, the car-rental offices, air freight depots and travel clinics, the light industrial and motel architecture that unvaryingly surrounds every major airport in the world.

Warner populates this dismal zone with six young women, his solution to the transience and wipe-clean nullity of the place.

(LRB 28 April 2011)

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