Deep South v.2 n.2 (Winter, 1996)
In "Rushing to Paradise", the novel's central character, Dr Barbara Rafferty, manipulates (where she can) the two pivotal forces: the military and the news media. It is her rebellion against the former and her manipulation of the latter which directly leads to the formation of a sanctuary at Saint Esprit. In events leading up to the creation of a sanctuary at Saint Esprit, the news media are used to her advantage: promoting her expedition, and reporting the violence of Neil's shooting and the death of Bracewell. Once the future of Saint Esprit is established as a sanctuary the media have served their purpose.
Saint Esprit is saved by Dr Barbara from the French government and its agent: the military. The French military are described as callous: the proponents of nuclear power, the destroyers of the island and its resident albatross. However, the military leave, under orders from the French government and pressurised by the new media, and a more menacing force is established: the regime of Dr Barbara.
The twin threads of the media and the military form the basis for narrative structure. Dr Barbara uses the media and her anarchistic actions to undermine the authority of the military. The mass media of television, radio and film are used to subvert the military power and extol the virtues of Dr Barbara. When Dr Barbara has saved Saint Esprit from the French she initiates her own form of government and a military force. The media and the all seeing eyes of lenses and screens are now seen as the enemy.
Dr Barbara's anger and protest is aimed at the French Government and military for the use and abuse of Saint Esprit. As her protest develops her sanctuary becomes a base for her "regime" and her personal agenda for an exclusive sanctuary for women. As the sanctuary develops she is transformed, casting off the rags of an "eccentric" p.18) in favour of the garb of a dictator. The paradox of an organised, military style anarchy is one of the axis on which the novel spins. During the first raid on Saint Esprit, Dr Barbara sits in the bows of the boat "crouched like a commando" (p.16). The videotaping of the evidence of French abuse of Saint Esprit and the resident albatross is executed with military decision. The military base is strewn with the bodies of dead albatross: slaughtered to prevent their being sucked into landing plane engines. Far from being a hive of activity the base is a "moraine of abandoned military equipment".(p.19) Dr Barbara sprays slogans on tents and fatigues, Kimo hangs a banner, whilst Neil films the scene.
In contrast to the portrayal of the organised protesters, the French army are seen as casual: "While his men waited beside him, smoking their cigarettes, the sergeant took a leisurely series of still photographs with his camera, like a tourist recording a quaint fokeloric ritual."(p. 22) However, the army's act of hostility is directed at Neil and he is shot in the foot whilst running away.
Far from being a setback for Dr Barbara's campaign, Neil's wound is a bonus for the protest:
"But the bloodied bandages on the television newscasts had been a propaganda coup whose impact rivalled the stigmata of a saint. A breathless Dr Barbara embraced him on his stretcher and assured the cameras that these few crimson drops redeemed the ocean of blood shed by the slaughtered birds. Had she aimed the pistol herself, Dr Barbara could not have found a more valuable target."(p.25)
Neil is transformed overnight from an ordinary, American boy to a "celebrity"(p.25) and Dr Barbara to a "minor media phenomenon".(p.27) The smartly dressed woman who faces the media is the antithesis of the woman who "swore"(p. 9) and used a "vulgar gesture"(p.9) during the assault on Saint Esprit. No longer is her "tattered underwear held together by safety pins and the zip of her trousers tied into place with fuse wire"(p.18): she now wears the military style uniform "safari suit". But Dr Rafferty has an ominous past: her history is disclosed by the media whilst simultaneously becoming the "new heroine of the ecological movement"(p.38). As Paris-Match reveals, her disbarment from the medical profession was a direct result of her prescription of a "lethal cocktail"(p.39) to some of her cancer patients and her defiance of the Medical Board.
Despite her dislike of authority and dubious medical practise, Dr Barbara plans another expedition to Saint Esprit. This time she is well aware that the world will be watching them, as a television crew is to accompany them on their voyage. The presence of cameras and a satellite dish to link with Honolulu will involve the world in their protest. In the days leading up to the departure "television crews and press reporters were...describing in provocative detail the preparations for the ecological sea raid on a military out-post of the French colonial empire."(p.45) The power of the media is something which Dr Barbara at this stage does not underestimate - the media attention is working in her favour, but once established on Saint Esprit, the same power presents itself as a threat to her ideals.
The media successfully idealises Neil's role in the expedition, a fact which comes to Neil's attention when told by Monique "You're an emblem, Neil. The TV screen is your shield, no bullet can pierce you."(p.48) He reflects "He was now a talisman of the animal rights movement, to be carried shoulder-high like the stuffed head of a slaughtered bison."(p.48) The presence of a camera maintains the interest of passers by, and when filming is put on hold in Honolulu the crowds disappear, as if the lens eye is the only sign that something exceptional is happening.
It is with a touch of irony that the first fatality of the expedition is the camera man: Mark Bracewell. The fatal collision between the Dugong and the French corvette is punctuated with explosions on the island (as a result of a night assault and the incineration of fuel tanks), blasting sirens, expletives from the protesters and Monique's bare breasts. Bracewell meets his end between the hulls of the two boats, and the camera falls into the sea.
It is no surprise that one camera lens is replaced by the eyes of many: "The film's abrupt finale, as the camera was snatched from Bracewell's hands, had seared the consciences of millions of viewers."(p.70) At the grave site on Saint Esprit a number of News Agencies film Bracewell's funeral, turning the death into a world media event. Symbolically as the many camera lenses leave the island, the protesters set about pulling down the radio mast. The destruction of the air craft warning light at the top is a group effort with "everyone... determined to put out this cyclopean eye that had gazed down on them during the three week occupation of Saint Esprit."(p.78)
The media interest is a contributing factor in the French decision to make Saint Esprit a sanctuary, ending the possibility of nuclear tests resuming. A scout from Club Med arrives, accompanied with "TV crews, journalists, publishers' agents. Unlimited destructive power at every finger-tip'".(p.91) Press conferences occur on a hourly basis and journalists are given guided tours: but the protesters are not in the position of power. The interviewers are assertive and thrust their tape recorders into the protesters faces - as threatening as any weapon. Make-up is used to conceal the sores on Dr Barbara's face and she even borrows some of Monique's "lipstick and rouge"(p.93) as if it were essential she looked good for the camera lens, forgoing her rough, shabby protester alter-ego. She thrives on the attention, making a "passionate plea to the world's television audiences".(p.93)
Once established on the island, the protesters and the recruits brought in by the media hype begin to organise themselves. Carline is the first to seem to want to "take over the task of constructing a military base"(p.82), he who "commandeered the bulldozer and christened it his 'dune-buggy'" (p.77) and he who wears army fatigues (p.77) and "French combat boots"(p.89). As Neil says in a veiled insult, he looks like a "French Commando", but Carline is flattered by the allusion. It is Carline who suggests that the protesters have a "security problem"(p.101), that they might need a "guard roster" and a "look-out post"(p.101) Despite the intention to restrict entry to Saint Esprit, there is a stream of continuous arrivals, the most abhorrent to both Carline and Dr Barbara the crew of "nautical hippies"(p.100) The two anthropologists who wish to observe and document the lives and experiences of the protesters are eventually, and literally smoked out and forced to leave. Dr Barbara is consumed with "mounting despair"(p.108) which results in the destruction of the supplies. Under her orders Neil, driving the bulldozer pushes the supply crates into the sea - food, clothes and equipment. This action marks the beginning of a new era for the occupants of Saint Esprit.
Part two of the novel begins with the metamorphosis of Dr Barbara and ends with her self-exile. In the opening pages she is at the peak of her power:
"Lungs flushed with air, blonde hair flying from her forehead like a battle pennant, she resembled a warrior queen who had mounted a successful coup against her own followers."(p.117)
No longer the "eccentric" Englishwoman protesting against the acts of government, she is a powerful leader: a "lady commandant" (p.122) and the initiator of a "rigorous regime".(p.128)) The other protesters use language associated with the military and warfare: they enact the "charade of raiding parties".(p.135) and "commando raids" (p.143) In fact the new military-style regime has a beneficial use: "By placing Saint Esprit on a more military footing they had increased the effectiveness of the sanctuary".(p.136)
Although the camp of protesters appears to profit from the military style organisation, Neil is the sole member who has doubts and concerns about Dr Barbara's power and influence. The death of Monique's father, Monsieur Didier, is followed by that of the deformed, but happy male child of the hippies: Gubby. The suspicious circumstances surrounding these two deaths leads to the fleeing of Dr Barbara from the camp. Dr Barbara is seen by the protesters as their leader and the centre of the community: "without Dr Barbara the sanctuary had lost its compass bearing".(p.159) Her ominous agenda is revealed to Neil when he finds her hideaway. Dr Barbara tells Neil in a matter-of-fact tone "In fact we need women more than men. Women work harder and survive on less"(p.165) and later "Saint Esprit isn't a sanctuary for the albatross, it's a sanctuary for women - or could be we're the most endangered species of all."(p.170) It is with a touch of irony that Dr Barbara slaughters one of the endangered birds (a Mikado pheasant) and cooks it for her and Neil: Neil had fed it and cared for it since its arrival on the island. Dr Barbara is then not only the leader of the protesters, and the mentor of young Neil, but now his teacher and lover.
Part II of the novel concludes with Dr Barbara's return to the camp to witness the visiting gendarmes leaving the island without her: clearly the other members of the group have not suggested to the authorities that in any way Dr Barbara was responsible for the deaths of Monsieur Didier and Gubby. Her self-imposed exile proved that the protesters could not function without her, and whatever her agenda, they were prepared to accept her.
Part III of the novels opens with Neil, flushed with the energy of his sexual prowess and now the inseminator of Trudi, Inger and Monique. All three are successfully impregnated, although Trudi gave birth to a "malformed foetus" which coincidentally was male. Dr Barbara as the island's physician was the overseer of the pregnancies - having prepared Neil for the sex act during their time as lovers. Now she plans the insemination of Mrs Saito, and the recruitment of other women to join them on the island. Any threat to Dr Barbara's plans, particularly the men gradually become restless and sick: Professor Saito falls ill with a virus, the Andersons who were so fond of Neil have sailed away, and Carline becomes a "restless constable"(p.192) and sees himself as a "one man militia".(p.193)
In contrast to the demise of the male members of the group, the women are aglow with health, pregnancy and vitality. At the "centre of the women's republic was Dr Barbara, presiding from her office in the clinic, guarding the store of canned food and the medical supplies that had failed to save Professor Saito and Kimo from their wasting fevers."(p.199) The demise of the botanist and the Hawaiian implies a threat to Neil's existence too - naively he thinks that his sperm keeps him from the sickbed but as time passes he becomes "an intruder at a private party"(p.200). A greater threat to Neil is the arrival of a "copper skinned boy"(p.196) who is younger and in better physical and sexual condition.
Neil gradually succumbs to the illness that killed Kimo and Professor Saito. During one feverish moment he sees Dr Barbara as the "demon queen".(p.212) A great deal of truth lies in this vision and in a moment of clarity Neil slips from his sick-bed to discover the bodies of Carline and the two Swedish hippies buried in Dr Barbara's garden. In fear for his life he flees into the forest and resorts to stealing bread in order to survive. Hoping that the bread was left for him, Neil is surprised when Monique Inger and Trudi attack him with a knife. Neil's true sanctuary becomes the forest: here he recovers from the fevers as he is no longer forced to receive Dr Barbara's "vitamin injections" and has access to fresh drinking water rather than the polluted supply at the camp.
Neil returns to the camp to witness the end of Dr Barbara's dictatorship: the bodies of Inger, Trudi, Monique and the wounded nurses from New Zealand are evidence of Dr Barbara's "deranged logic" (p.237). The arrival of the Andersons with the French Gendarmes leads to the escape of the survivors from Dr Barbara's regime. But, Dr Barbara is not arrested, she retreats into the forest, and the many inlets and atolls surrounding the island.
The return of the French military brings about the formal and somewhat ironic end to Dr Barbara's regime - one form of power replacing another. Her military style dictatorship is carefully obscured in the narrative by the descriptions of Carline. His open obsession with the military masks the ominous plans of Dr Barbara. Although he appears to be a military-style commander, it is clear from the narrative that combat boots and a uniform do not make a soldier, or a dictator. The costume of Dr Barbara is manifested in her ambiguous power as a doctor: her ability to give vitamin injections, her sampling of urine for fertility and pregnancy and her command over life and death.
It would seem that the power of a dictator such as Dr Barbara is far more threatening than a uniformed battalion: her ability to persuade the protesters to engage in activity that would normally be a fantasy, such as Neil's destruction of the supply crates with the bull dozer, his insemination of the women, and their acceptance of his role as inseminator, shows that Dr Barbara controls the island with something more powerful than brute force: her mind. Like the news media Dr Barbara controls the protesters by her manipulation of reality: she alone has the power to conceal the truth.
J. G. Ballard. Rushing to Paradise. London: Flamingo, 1994