Book Review: High Rise by J G Ballard


Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” This, is how JG Ballard’s novel begins.  What follows is chaos.  Absolute and utter dystopian chaos.

Briefly, the book centres around Dr Robert Laing who has just bought a new flat in an apartment block designed to be the future of living which caters for your every need from an in-built supermarket to an on site swimming pool..essentially a “small vertical city“.  Laing buys a flat on the 25th floor of the 40 storey building.  We learn that the floor number you reside in is dictated by your wealth.  The wealthier you are – the higher you rise.

The building begins to have teething problems all new buildings suffer such as lifts going out of service.  However, those residents that are affected by the non-working lifts (i.e. the residents on the lower floors) are dismayed at the length of time it takes for anyone to look at the issue and fix it.  Meanwhile, those on the upper floors ascend and descend quite freely in their high-speed lifts completely unaffected by the gripes of the lower floor residents.

It is not long before the lower floor residents revolt.  Blocking lifts with furniture, riots, looting the supermarket, killing dogs in pools etc – a standard reaction I hear you say!  The wealthy are immune to the goings on until the violent primal behaviour starts to ascend upwards – always rising higher.

There is no real resolution to the damage and destruction to and created by this gated community – it just descends and continues to do so.  Ironic really when you consider the title of the book.  Ballard’s protagonists seem to have no motive other than to act against any sort of social and human decency.  It is dog – eat – dog…quite literally. This I found the most perplexing thing about the book together with the constant question of: why don’t they just leave the building?  It isn’t because they can’t.  They do not want to. But why?

Ballard’s metaphor of this society noting the wealthy at the top oppressing those less well off at the bottom is a striking indictment of the time this book was written.  It is still relevant now which is probably why Ben Wheatley adapted the book into a movie – which is, fantastic (although you should read the book before seeing the movie – Tom Hiddleston or no Tom Hiddleston!).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I read it in one sitting, racing through the pages to see how far Ballard would push his metaphor and his protagonists.  Quite far was the answer.  Surprisingly so.

Recommended for: dystopian novel lovers!

Rating: 5/5

Favourite quote:Let the psychotics take over.  They alone understood what was happening.”

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

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