I find it a bit surprising that I like Ballard's SF quite so much. I have previously read the Drowned World and this is basically the same book,, but with heat and water replaced by crystals.
The book, like the Drowned World, draws directly from Heart of Darkness. It is a kind of phantasmagoria Heart of Darkness. Set in the jungles of Cameroon the jungle is crystallizing into jewels. The people are drawn to the jungle and the main character a doctor who treats leprosy wander through the Jungle with either no purpose or nonsensical ones. The world blurs the lines behind light and dark and the lines of morality are blurred as well.
The crystallization process is represented as part of a cosmological disaster where time is seeping out of the universe and the universe is crystallizing as a result.
The imagery is at once matter of fact, but also dreamlike, nightmarish and beautiful at the same time.
The book, like the Drowned WOrld, is about a feel and about imagery and half-formed ideas that refuse to crystallize and just melt away.
Ballard's science-fiction is really more surrealist fantasy and is designed to evoke a mood, which it does exceptionally well. The characters are also these dreamlike melting images and the plot, if there is one, is full of dislocation in the bejeweled jungle.
People don't seem to like this book all that much, but it is really excellent, although not so good as The Drowned World. I think that is because people are expecting a conventional novel and what is here is an experimental piece full of imagery and beauty and feeling and dreaminess.
Very, very good but you have to let it wash over you, and let it turn you to crystal so that the temporal relations of the novel no longer matter. I'm not sure what it all means though.