Book Review: “High Rise” by J G Ballard
Where “Concrete Island” was a take on “Robinson Crusoe”, “High Rise” is a version of “Lord of the Flies”.
The most important aspect of this novel is the setting – a high rise complex. It is entirely luxurious and populated by successful hardworking people. The high rise contains a school, a supermarket and leisure facilities – a self contained microcosm.
As the novel progresses, civilization begins to collapse. There are tensions between residents on different floors, there are technical hitches and inconveniences, there are jealousies and prejudices. A bottle thrown from an upper floor smashes on a balcony, a dog is found drowned in the swimming pool and a resident is found dead having fallen onto a car in the parking lot.
The odd thing about it is that, rather than fleeing for their lives, civilisation and sanity, the residents seem to relish the opportunity to give in to their baser instincts. They vandalise, steal and attack. They spoil things, create barricades and separate into clans and groups.
Life on the outside continues as normal and, although many leave the high rise to wok during the day, no one lets on about the increasing depravity in the apartment block. It is at night that the attacks and vandalism take place.
We are led through the novel by following three men: Laing, Wilder and Royal. Laing is the easiest to sympathise with. Wilder is probably well named as he thrives on the challenge of reaching the top of the building and dominating it. Royal again is probably names as such as he is the architect and he is on the top floor and reveling in the events as they unfold.
What do the two books have in common?
Both have a setting that entirely dominates the novel. The inhabitants are cut off entirely from society that goes on, oblivious to the events taking place in the setting.
The inhabitants of the settings behave in bizarre ways, developing their own codes of behaviour and moral senst.
The most surprising part is that the protagonists both come to terms with these settings, and feel free and empowered in them, despite the harshness and depravity that pervades them both.
I enjoyed “Concrete Island” far more – there were too many assaults, corpses and abuses described in “High Rise”.
The odd common denominator is the happiness that the protagonists seem to find in reaching the end of their personalities. They are worn out with physical and moral problems, but are not defeated – just oddly liberated. Which is a world view I don’t share.