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High-Rise: A Novel Paperback – April 16, 2012
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‘Ballard’s finest novel … a triumph’ The Times
‘ingenious … ‘High-Rise’ is an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers unsettlingly in the mind’ Martin Amis
‘Chilling … Ballard is a prophetic writer’ Sunday Times
‘The writing is cool, the observation exact, the idea bold and well-developed; everything seems to demand attention and analysis’ Financial Times
‘The terrifying thing about Ballard is his logic; is this science fiction or history written ahead of its time?’ Len Deighton--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
J.G. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and lived in England from 1946 until his death in London in 2009. He is the author of nineteen novels, including Empire of the Sun, The Drought, and Crash, with many of them made into major films.
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It’s a short book, 205 pages, and its written very well in terms of descriptions, setting the mood, etc. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions that really drew you into the book.
I had a few problems with the book. Specifically, it chronicles an entire apartment building’s tenants and their surprisingly fast decent into madness but really never comments on why. Ballard inserts the occasional power outage as the catalyst for their fervor but it’s a stretch and I felt like he should have touched off on this more. None of the characters are likeable, there are multiple references to animals being beaten, killed, eaten, etc. It was tough to read some times.
Overall, the book was well written and at times Ballard really hit the nail on the head with his descriptions of people’s thoughts. That said the book was too short for this much content and was unrealistic at times. I would give it a pass but still 3 stars for the writing style.
High-Rise is an stupendous book about how the increasing density of our cities could lead to mass insanity. The high-rise of the title is a forty-storied project with a thousand apartments that is inaugurated in London, a building designed to be completely autonomous, with supermarkets, stores, swimming pools, gyms and even schools.
As time goes by, the trivial everyday disputes because of noises, animals, children, parking spaces, elevator use; everything intensifies. The dwellers gather in tribes of close storys, with a particular rivalry among those who live in the top luxury floors and the cheaper ones on the bottom. It all leads to all out anarchy and floor wars, social collapse and beatings, invasions, deaths, rapes, gratuitous violence and cannibalism.
The book is full of “ballardian” ideas, such as how the cyclopean building is really built not to house the residents, but for them to hide in. Is the place where you can disconnect yourself from society and let loose your primal instincts of territory and ownership. Where your inner animal can be himself.
It is incredible how this isolation progresses in the book. In the beginning it is just an unconscious anger, leading to a kind of collective insanity and ending in total madness. The dwellers become animals, dominated by an instinct to sleep by day and go out at night to fight. The insanity is beautifully described as an instinctive “secret logic” that guides rational thought.
The book high-rise is a kind of mental skinner box, an isolated environment where Ballard analyzes the psychological changes human beings suffer as they live in an extremely dense environment. The building is sold as a architectural marvel, but something in this consumer paradise rewrites the very organization of the brain. One of the best books I have ever read. Highly recommended.
The characters are very well thought out. It's fascinating to me to see civilized human beings slowly crumble to the level of savagery, and yet no one does anything to stop it. No spoilers but let me warn you. There are some extremely disturbing scenes that are very well written, and the horror that you may feel doesn't stop you from continuing on. If anything, at least in my case, it made me keep turning the pages to see what would happen next.
Don't recommend it for everyone. If you like Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, you'll have no problem with this. For those not so sure, I'd say check it out of your local library first. And like I said, while it's not for everyone, it is a very compelling story. (Special note to all the Tom Hiddleston fans: he's scheduled to play Laing, who is also a very complex character. Just to ease your minds, and this IS a spoiler alert, he never succumbs to the craziness going on all around him. But there will be some scenes you may not be comfortable with him portraying.)