High-Rise by J.G. Ballard – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Set in an apartment tower block in London, High-Rise is a dystopian tale about the intense animosity that develops between the building’s various floors. The story centres around three main characters – Robert Laing, an instructor at a medical school, Richard Wilder, an aggressive, alpha male type TV documentary producer, and the building’s architect and top floor resident, Anthony Royal.
The building mirrors society’s class distinctions, with the upper echelons, who include television producers and executives, dwelling on the top floors, the middle ranking inhabitants living on the middle floors, and air hostesses and the like languishing on the lower levels.
Objects landing on balconies and loud parties see the start of a conflict between the floors that soon descends into a chaotic, violent orgy, devoid of social restraint. The elevators stop working, rubbish accumulates, dogs run wild, and the building’s population now oblivious to hygiene face food shortages and even eat dogs. Previously stifled by rules and constraints, the inhabitants seem quite content for the most part with the pandemonium, finding liberation in the disorder.
This is a tale about how the social order can fragment, a common theme for Ballard. The story could be argued to be prescient, as it foretells what might happen as a result of our modern living arrangements. Replete with similes and occurrences of the word ‘percolate’, High-Rise is a tense, bleak and satirical book about conflict that explores the connection between technology and the human condition.