‘High-Rise’ by J.G. Ballard

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‘Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.
In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.’

High-Rise is the first novel I’ve read by J.G. Ballard and hopefully not the last. After seeing the trailer for the new film version I decided to read the book first and I’m really glad I did.
The novel is a compelling read and an interesting study of the effects of deprivation and the potential dangers of a secluded, self governing society where a breakdown of social order has occurred. It focuses on a High-Rise, an apartment building complete with shops, banks etc. that mean it can function semi-independently of the outside world. Or at least few of the residents need to have a connection with the rest of the world. It details the possible breakdown of order and morals that Ballard suggested such an isolated existence could encourage and was an intriguing commentary on human nature and its darker instincts.

The characters of Royal, Laing and Wilder were perfect representations of the upper, middle and lower classes/levels within the High-Rise respectively, and served to guide the story from the three different viewpoints. The shocking and depraved acts these three characters engage in serve to show not only some of the worst aspects of human nature but also just what humans are capable of. The way Ballard writes them is, quite frankly, terrifying, as he not only pins their radical and wild psychology down but also still manages to keep their human essence. Despite their actions being stereotypically more animal than human, we never lose sight of Ballard’s point that this novel is exploring what humans are capable of in this situation.

The fact that Ballard thinks humans are capable of acting in this way is both shocking and sobering. Having experienced a prisoner of war camp in his youth, Ballard backs up his work with a psychology so believable that no matter how disturbing the events get, you are never in any doubt that these events are not entirely out of the realms of possibility. You just have to hope that just because they are possible doesn’t mean they are certain to happen.

All in all, this book is harrowing but never far fetched. The novel is disturbing in many senses and therefore not for the faint hearted. And yet, I would urge that if you can push through and read it all that you should, not just because it is a marvellous work of fiction and a fantastic and unique view on a dystopian society hidden within our own modern world but also because it is simply a fascinating read. I cannot promise that when you finish this book it will leave you with a sense of resolution and that you will have all the answers. In fact, Ballard leaves you with countless questions and few answers. But, I think that’s very much the point. Science fiction like this is meant to leave us asking questions and striving to know more. Ballard’s novel starts a conversation and inspires thought and analysis, all of which I think is far too interesting an opportunity to miss.

Entertaining but disturbing, it had to be 4 stars.

4 stars

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