knig's Reviews > High-Rise

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
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Apr 15, 12

bookshelves: 2012, absolute-bollocks, disturbia
Read from April 13 to 15, 2012

It sometimes happens, that my suspension fails and so my disbelief prevails, unchecked. I realise that it then becomes MY failure, rather than the authors, to attribute a signifier of connoissaince. Thus it happened here: I tried and tried, but ‘I’ve giv’n it all shes got Captain, an’ I canna give her no more’.

Two thousand residents in an expensive high rise in London ‘short circuit’ and turn feral. As to what shenanigans they get up to: nobody explains it better than Mark in his wonderful review, who lists the breadth and range of their peccadilloes with the panache this gripping read deserves. But where was I during the ride?

Well, right from the beginning my mind got stuck in a groove: the one where the needle lodges in the LP and thats it: loopy loop land. First, the irony of the fact that what we are dealing here is the creme de la the crème of British society: high flyer professionals, heralders of the last bastion of Englishness: stiff upper lip and all that. That precisely this social class should lose the plot and go underclass.....well, OK, why not. But, we have to bear in mind, the rest of the world outside the high rise is functioning as per normal: there is no social breakdown or any external unrest/change which would precipitate such Lord of the Flies-esque behaviour. No postapocalyse or Armageddon here. Ok, fine. But then, these people, you see, OWN their expensive apartments (although more on that later). So, for no discernible reason, a group of upper class toffs go on a bender and destroy their property (its actually a miracle the high rise is still up at the end of the novel, after the grinder it gets put through). Whilst they’re hellbent on destruction, all two thousand somehow telepathically decide not to call the police, the fire services, the gas company or hell, even the army, as they battle it out internally. Oooookkkk. But still. There is the small matter of the 99 year lease which Laing signs at the beginning of this Caligulan orgy. Now, I don’t know how property works in other parts of the world, but in London particularly this peculiar lease business means that you might own your house, but not the land it lies on: hence the lease. It is no minor mystery what happens when the lease runs out. Theoretically, your paid up property reverts to the landlord. Solicitors who want to clinch a sale say this probably won’t happen and yadayada, but here is what I know for a fact: last year, an apartment in Chelsea, which would normally have been priced at a cool million, was selling for£175,000 because it had a lease of three years. Interesting.

Nehow, these landlords are pretty keen on maintaining the properties (which they recharge to the tenants). The idea that the high rise management absconds and the landlord lies low during the ‘siege’ is risible. Just. Cannot. Happen.

And so I couldn’t cross the threshold of disbelief. If only there were a different caveat to it all: a war scenario, a post apocalyptic domain of reference: anything, please, to justify and give meaning and really character development to the wanton, baseless anarchy raging throughout the high rise inferno.

Which, in itself, rolled out like a movie reel: one breathless action scene after another of interminable violence.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Mariel (new)

Mariel Ballard explored this theme a lot in his short stories. I have to say those weren't my favorites (although good). I wasn't quite satisfied with his endings of some but he sparked my mind on things I don't normally think about in better contexts (especially on time and connections to intangible things).


knig I agree there is a lot to think about: how little it takes, for example, for the veneer of civilisation to be stripped away and for us to revert to our basest instincts. I saw this first hand a couple of weekends ago when petrol ran dry in the UK because of a proposed strike action: people in queues became quite feral.


message 3: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls He beat this theme to death, didn't he? Super-Cannes is about the veneer of civilisation slipping away. And Concrete Island. And Cocaine Nights. You're right, though, I doubt these residents would get their deposits back.


message 4: by Nate D (new)

Nate D I still so need to read this one. I am completely comfortable with absurd implausibility if it facilitates such tantalizing premises as this.


message 5: by knig (last edited Apr 17, 2012 06:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

knig I'm coming round to a (controversial?) notion that some books definitely have genders. This one has 'masculine' etched all over it. I have a feeling no man would be able to resist it.


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