- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 990 KB
- Print Length: 258 pages
- Publisher: Fourth Estate (28 June 2012)
- Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers (AU)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008CBD38K
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews: 372 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,794 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
HarperCollins Publishers (AU)
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High-Rise Kindle Edition
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|Length: 258 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
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From the Back Cover
''an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers unsettlingly in the mind.''
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 technological mayhem…
In this visionary tale from the author of Crash, Empire of the Sun and Super-Cannes, human society slips into violent reverse as the inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a world ruled by the laws of the jungle.
‘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
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Top international reviews
In addition, his story entails incredible foresight, predicting how everyone would be obsessed with recording on video everything they do. How they would become dependent on a building complex that catered for them. How alienated they would become from the outside world. Remember, this novel was published in 1975, written possibly earlier than that. Ballard has an uncanny insight on the human condition, on how technology and modernity impacts the human mind, predicting the future in peculiar ways. The story of the high rise is the story of modern and post-modern humanity, a society being cramped into ever smaller, mechanized constructs, losing touch with nature, with reality. Everything becoming a microcosm with rules of its own, leading back to a state of primitiveness, all moral codes deconstructed and twisted to fit an emerging jungle that not everyone will survive.
And yet, outstanding as the premise is, the novel fails to live up to its full potential. The writing is obsessed with the description of rubbish, which after page forty, becomes repetitive. How many times can you mention the garbage sacks and the debris and the washing machines thrown out in the corridors? After a while, they cease to serve a purpose, they clutter the story (ironic, isn't it?). And the story -- it goes nowhere after the first half. The best parts are given one third in, and the rest is more of the same -- people roaming through the trash, getting increasingly violent, one of them trying to ascend the building to assert himself, another trying to dominate the building, and a third trying to find his place in the middle. It's all very symbolic, potentially gripping, but it takes place on a backdrop that emphasizes the debris, not the psychology. We don't move from act 2 to act 3. The plot moves but the story doesn't, and neither do these characters, even when they push their way from room to room and floor to floor. They're stuck in this recycled reiteration of the nasty high rise and its trash and broken furniture, a loop that begins to tire the readers instead of haunting them.
The fix would have been easy. Cut a big bunch of the description and stick to the action, letting readers imagine the effect of going through this apocalyptic odyssey through a place laid to waste, a place so clearly established in the beginning. Let us feel the effect of the high rise rather than force-feed it to us.
5 stars for the premise, two for the execution, three stars overall.
PS - I hope the movie focuses on the surreal aspects of the story, on the raw emotions, leaving the trash to serve as props and art design. When you start with a dalmatian dog being roasted on the spit on a balcony, and people are throwing stuff out their windows without giving a crap about what happens to those below them, everything goes. This could be a hell of a movie.
The setting is a brand new, brilliantly architected high-rise residential building on the outskirts of central London. I could not stop myself from seeing Canary Wharf in my head, but it could just as easily be Battersea or Vauxhall. The building is the first of its kind, but several more are being built around a central lake.
The selling point of the building is that the middle-class tenants will inhabit a self-contained universe with everything they need laid on inside the building - shops, sports facilities, schools, etc. They have no need to go outside except to go to their well-paid jobs, which they do securely insulated in their cars parked at the foot of the high-rise.
There are two shopping malls in the building, on the 10th and 35th floors. These malls provide points of social inflexion between the tenants. The floors below the 10th floor are inhabited by younger, less senior middle and line managers, TV producers, air hostesses, etc. Being younger, most of the children in the building live at these levels. On the top five floors live a slightly older, more mature group of wealthy jewellers, surgeons, actresses and senior professionals, including the architect of the building. All that is missing here are the investment bankers and hedge fund managers, but this is 1975, eleven years before Big Bang in the City. In between live a layer of middle managers, stock jobbers, tax accountants and dentists.
Things go wrong in the building infrastructure; there are teething problems. All too quickly the social order breaks down as the three groups of tenants start to resent each other. The children from the lower floors are banned from the upper floors, including from their schools and the playground built specially for them on the top floor. The dogs from the upper floors are terrorised in return. People throw rubbish and empty bottles onto the verandas and parked cars below.
This is the genius of the book. Everyone in the building is a member of the professional classes and yet they still manage to find social distinctions enough to divide themselves into competing tribes. Soon it is every man for himself, as we follow the activities of a representative of each of the social strata – a homicidal social climbing (literally) former professional rugby player now TV producer, a physiology lecturer and the architect himself.
The problem with the book is that there is not really enough plot to last the full 270 pages, so it does become a little repetitive. Nevertheless the satire is deadly and, although the book is set in the 1970s when brutalist architecture was at its height, it is still relevant today.
In fact I would argue that it has become even more relevant today. Since Thatcherism and Reaganomics and the Big Bang in the 1980s, the upper-upper-middle have got richer and richer, while the rest of the middle classes have stood still or gone backwards. There may yet be hell to pay for this and do not just mean Donald Trump, UKIP and other political fringes. There is also the Boris Johnson inspired boom in high rise luxury apartments in London (I can see all the cranes out of my window as I type this.), most of which are currently being bought by foreigners as an investment. When this investment proves to be a sham and property prices collapse, there will be ugly partially occupied middle class slums all over London. Who knows what will go on in the corridors and lift shafts of these model homes? Who knows what teething problems these buildings will present to the brave few who actually move into these speculative rush-jobs?
Read the book. Go see the film. Or stick around in London and wait for the real thing. Four stars for Mr Ballard for prescience.
The premise came from behavioural research into how rats behaved if too many were packed into a confined environment (I think I got this from a Guardian article). At a certain point there was a step-change in behaviour with a more anti-social relationship taking over as if the rats had acquired a new nature. Ballard liked reading this sort of research to gain ideas for his books.
Like Concrete Island the premise of this book is about regressive behaviour caused by a confined or limited space. He was thinking about how our environment could change our nature - could well be doing so already without us being aware of it. It was a fashionable topic - the kind of tower block depicted was being thrown up around Britain at a rate of knots in the early 70s - most are now being demolished because of anti-social behaviour associated with them (reduction of maintenance grants was more the issue).
With the dramatic upheaval in Ballard’s literary reputation since then and the recent film, it is a bit difficult to cut through the hype to get to the core of the book.
Ballard was not by nature a novelist, he started out writing short stories, then a trilogy of books pitching the world into some disaster or another. Then there was the dystopian urban trilogy of Concrete Island, High-Rise and Crash. Concrete Island was short for a novel stranding an architect in the gap between motorways. High-Rise uses three narrators to allow for a higher word count, but even so this is a relatively short novel. The book famously opens with someone eating a dead dog.
The story then jumps back to describe how small niggles led to the tower block descending into tribal violence, madness, ending up like the Killing Fields as designed by Le Corbusier.
Written during the seventies, when we were being told to shelter under a table to protect and survive the imminent nuclear apocalypse, with Sven Hassel and Skinhead paperbacks selling well.
I read this as a fable, giving flesh to the implications of casual discrimination and rivalries. Although there is plenty of violence, and a little sex, it is described in a matter of fact fashion. Despite the horror the author never dwells on it unduly and it is open to the reader what actually transpires at key points. By the end most of the residents have probably starved to death.
Ballard grew up in a Japanese internment camp, and trained as a doctor, so he is dispassionate about our bodies or our society falling apart. In life there are few heroes, and few villains, most people are somewhere in the middle going where society takes them. In this case it is pretty dark, and as with all of Ballard it is intended to serve as a wake up call to discard the casual hatreds of the tabloid press etc before they destroy us.
Arguably this is the pinnacle of Ballard’s writing, but it is a catalogue of atrocities, so not for the faint hearted or for outright horror fiction fans. But if you are looking for an odiferous account of a society in collapse then this remains monumental.
The High Rise in question is the first of five upmarket apartment blocks being developed on wasteland near a river. Each contains forty floors of accommodation and is divided into three sections by amenity and service levels. The higher the level an apartment is on the more desirable it is seen to be. Each third is regarded by the residents as the lower, middle and upper social classes, with the penthouse apartments the ultimate in achievement.
The story is told from the point of view of residents in each of the three sections. Richard Wilder works for a film making company and lives on the second floor with his wife and two sons. Doctor Robert Laing, a childless divorcee, has a studio apartment on the twenty-fifth floor. Anthony Royal, one of the architects behind the design of the building, lives with his aristocratic young wife in one of just two penthouse suites. He comes to regard Wilder as his nemesis.
The detached narration adds to the tension and enables the reader to cope with the increasing brutality of the unfolding drama. What starts as low level discontent, as services fail and disturbances caused by loud and lively partying become increasingly invasive, soon turns to confrontation. Those on the higher floors expect and demand preferential treatment in a building designed to offer access for all. As simmering resentments boil over there is regrouping around more radical and belligerent leaders. Each resident watches unfolding events voyeuristically, to some degree hoping to see neighbours they secretly despise debasing themselves.
In places the story makes little sense (why did so many residents stay?) yet it also exposes why man often behaves as he does. The same ruthlessness and aggression exists widely, concealed within a set of polite conventions. It is common to hide the flaws in a life from others, to keep up appearances.
Early on there are observations on the apparently homogenous residents who have populated the High Rise:
“By the usual financial and educational yardsticks they were probably closer to each other than the members of any conceivable social mix, with the same tastes and attitudes, fads and styles – clearly reflected in the choice of automobiles in the parking-lots that surrounded the high rise, in the elegant but somehow standardized way in which they furnished their apartments”
At one of the first parties Laing attends he observes that:
“never far below the froth of professional gossip was a hard mantle of personal rivalry.”
By the end, when the order of both building and residents has been subsumed, Royal observes:
“he had constructed a gigantic, vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked above each other. All the events of the past few months made sense if one realized that these brilliant and exotic creatures had learned to open the doors.”
Perhaps what this story most demonstrates is that nothing in life is as secure as we may like to think. When breakdown occurs, the actions of those we thought we knew can be hard to predict.
A blistering deconstruction of supposedly civilised society. This was a fascinating, thought-provoking read.
The idea of the book, as I understand it, is that people being placed in conditions in which they have a lot of free time and does not need to struggle every day for living become bored and start breaking moral barriers. The funny thing is to think in the middle about what barriers are still not overcome, be sure to the end of the book this deficiency will be repaired. So people start to die to everyone's pleasure and satisfaction and all standards of culture rapidly degrade toward savage ones making finally the remaining population happy. Though there is some truth in this idea, it does not look convincing for me.
When anything good or bad happened to one I couldn’t care less.
I’ll put it down to me not being used to the authors style and give a few stars.
The world feels very real and claustraphobic; the male characters are fully fleshed out and you feel their decay.
As a nightmare commentary about primal instinct this book works well. Where it fell flat for me was the treatment of women. None of the female characters felt developed - none of them felt real. I visualised everyone bar them as I was reading. The repetative descriptions of various male desires was also grating particularly as little to no attempt to describe female psyche in their reaction to it however they responded.
Still very much worth the read despite the frustrating elements.