Ballard claims that he has “always treated England as a strange fiction”. The real world, in which he was formed, was Shanghai, where he was born in 1930 and brought up as a typical privileged expatriate boy in the city’s International Settlement, without learning Chinese or tasting a morsel of native cuisine. “I didn’t have a Chinese meal until I returned to England.” In 1943, his world flipped upside down when he was incarcerated with his parents in the Lunghua detention camp. In his collection of memoirs, Miracles of Life, published earlier this year, Ballard writes that he was “largely happy” in Lunghua, finding there “a relaxed and easygoing world” that he had not known in everyday life. He claims that he thrived during his two and a half years in detention, “even when food rations fell to near zero, skin infections covered my legs, malnutrition had prolapsed my rectum, and many of the adults had lost heart”.