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When a class war erupts inside a luxurious apartment block, modern elevators become violent battlegrounds and cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on "enemy" floors. In this visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, re-create a world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

208 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1975

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About the author

J.G. Ballard

442 books3,574 followers
James Graham "J. G." Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels such as The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on an eclectic variety of short stories (or "condensed novels") such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), which drew closer comparison with the work of postmodernist writers such as William S. Burroughs. In 1973 the highly controversial novel Crash was published, a story about symphorophilia and car crash fetishism; the protagonist becomes sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car crashes. The story was later adapted into a film of the same name by Canadian director David Cronenberg.

While many of Ballard's stories are thematically and narratively unusual, he is perhaps best known for his relatively conventional war novel, Empire of the Sun (1984), a semi-autobiographical account of a young boy's experiences in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War as it came to be occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. Described as "The best British novel about the Second World War" by The Guardian, the story was adapted into a 1987 film by Steven Spielberg.

The literary distinctiveness of Ballard's work has given rise to the adjective "Ballardian", defined by the Collins English Dictionary as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry describes Ballard's work as being occupied with "eros, thanatos, mass media and emergent technologies".

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 13, 2018
"A low crime-rate doctor," she told him amiably, "is a sure sign of social deprivation."

Anthony Royal built the Titanic of skyscrapers.


A state of the art, megalithic structure suitable for 2,000 tenants. It is a self-contained environment with everything a tenant would need such as shopping or exercise or even schools for their kids. The people the building attracts are white collar, well educated, professionals. The apartments sell out quickly and as everyone start to settle into their new lives glitches start to occur. Despite the developing problems entire floor parties are standard weekend entertainment. A bottle drops from a higher floor and shatters on Dr. Robert Laing's balcony and it is equivalent to the first canon fired on Fort Sumter.

As the week continues more bottles are dropped and other assorted trash begins to fall from the sky. A rich jeweler plummets from his upper level apartment onto the roof of a car. Resentment is building between levels. The perceived richest people, where Anthony Royal resides, are on the upper levels. The middle level people, where Dr. Robert Laing reside, are resentful of the upper levels, but also becoming more disdainful of the lower levels. Richard Wilder, a man working on a documentary about human behavior, lives in the lower levels. The trash is accumulating on the ground floor, the trash chutes become jammed and more and more trash is being hoisted over the side of the building creating an intolerable situation for the lower tenants.

Electricity winks out leaving entire floors without power for days at a time. "Five floors were without electricity. At night the dark bands stretched across the face of the high-rise like dead strata in a fading brain."The air condition goes out and when it does come back on it only trickles out for a few minutes before failing again. The lower levels bear the worst of the malfunctions with the upper levels remaining relatively unaffected. Resentments build and as tenants become more and more irritated the civilized structure of the building starts to erode.

This is the point of the novel when J.G. Ballard asks the reader to suspend belief. Yes, he is creepy; and yes, he has a pink beach ball; and yes, he wants to play with your mind.


The three levels of the building go to war with each other. People are beaten. Women are raped. Graffiti is sprayed on the walls. The building breaks down into tribal units with lower levels trying to conquer and take over higher levels of the building. "Not for the fist time Laing reflected that he and his neighbors were eager for trouble as the most effective means of enlarging their sex lives.The problem I have is that the outside world is perfectly normal. Civilization is existing just fine. There is no cataclysmic event that has ruptured the natural order of things. To return to the world of order is as simple as leaving the building. These are highly educated people who have benefited greatly from living in a society that allows them to make money using their brains. I found it hard to believe that these people would so easily transition to a tribal warfare society.

"They discussed the latest ruses for obtaining food and women, for defending the upper floors against marauders, their plans for alliance and betrayal. Now the new order had emerged, in which all life within the high-rise revolved around three obsessions-security, food and sex."

This is the adults gone wild version of Lord of the Flies. I didn't like Lord of the Flies so maybe I just don't like books about mob culture. Ballard didn't sell me on this concept, not that I don't believe that intelligent, well educated people are incapable of marinating in the swamp juices of the lizard brain, but I didn't feel it would happen under the circumstances that Ballard presented. I am still curious to explore more in Ballard's world and I look forward to reading more of his work. I'll leave you with some parting thoughts from Doctor Laing.

"Would he soon be the last person alive in the high-rise? He thought of himself in this enormous building, free to roam its floors and concrete galleries, to climb its silent elevator shafts, to sit by himself in turn on every one of its thousand balconies. This dream, longed for since his arrival at the high-rise, suddenly unnerved him, almost as if, at last alone here, he had heard footsteps in the next room and come face to face with himself."

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,257 followers
May 26, 2015

Luxury Living - To Die For!

Our extra-ordinary apartment complex is a full-service microcosm and so offers all the comforting amenities and thrilling excitements of the modern world - in one lavish locale. Imagine never having to step foot outside again! Whether your interests include swimming, shopping, the education of youngsters, simply lounging about without a care... or even more outré amusements such as rape, murder, incest, cannibalism, and the creating of small bands of like-minded individuals to hunt and gather... it is all waiting for you here at Ballard Apartments. Your every secret desire shall come true!

Management at Ballard Apartments fully understands the importance of class, and class consciousness. To better serve our varied tenants and to truly impart that feeling of living in the world while living at home, we maintain a carefully considered system of economic segregation. Our wealthier tenants are welcome within our spacious penthouse apartments - where they may indulge in all the varied delights typically enjoyed by society's creme de la creme. Our middle-class tenants will find themselves completely at home within our perfectly unremarkable mid-level apartments - ideally situated to allow residents to gaze longingly at their social betters above and scornfully upon their social inferiors below. Our more, shall we say, "blue collar" tenants have free range of the lower floors - where the faulty plumbing, cramped living situations, and generally inadequate facilities will no doubt ring a comfortingly familiar bell to many. A bell that tolls for bloody revolution!

Our amenities include:

* High-speed elevators and lavish swimming pools to commandeer! You will find these to be ideal opportunities for territorialism and murder!

* A dog-friendly environment - including a strict hands-off policy in regards to feasting upon our furry friends! Fresh & Organic never tasted so good!

* Bright supermarket lighting - all the better to see your enemy's beady, hypocritical eyes!

* Stark open spaces - all the better to indulge in classic Lord of the Flies role-playing games!

* Sinister shadowy spaces - all the better to lurk in, and then spring from to wreak sudden havoc!

* An array of balconies and a welcoming rooftop - all the better to fling yourself from!

Our heart-stoppingly hedonistic high-rise is perfectly appointed in the classic Ballard style. it features: terse brilliance; evilly deadpan humor; a cold, clinical style; a complete disinterest in creating empathetic connections between characters and readers; a detached desire to anger, agitate, and antagonize. Enjoy your lofty, God's-eye view of repellently savage and slaughter-happy human insects, all predictably engaged in typically clownish mayhem, gruesome atrocity, repulsive class warfare, and other depressing standards of the human condition.

Join Us!

Or not, it makes no real difference...

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews47 followers
October 9, 2021
(Book 331 from 1001 books) - High Rise, J.G. Ballard (James Graham Ballard)

High-Rise is a 1975 novel by British writer J. G. Ballard.

The story describes the disintegration of a luxury high-rise building as its affluent residents gradually descend into violent chaos.

As with Ballard's previous novels Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), High-Rise explores the ways in which modern social and technological landscapes could alter the human psyche in provocative and hitherto unexplored ways.

It was adapted into a film of the same name in 2015 by director Ben Wheatley.

برج - جی.جی بالارد (چشمه)، تاریخ نخستین خوانش: بیست و یکم ماه آگوست سال 2002میلادی

عنوان: برج: نویسنده: جیمز گراهام (جی.جی) بالارد؛ مترجم: علی اصغر بهرامی؛ تهران، نشر چشمه، 1380، در 284ص؛ شابک9789643620172؛ چاپ سوم بهار 1388؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 20م

برج یکی از آثار کلاسیک علمی‌ تخیلی پسا رستاخیزی، و پاد آرمان‌شهری به شمار می‌آید؛ داستان این رمان، در یک برج بسیار مدرن و لوکس، روی می‌دهد، برجی که به‌ گونه ای طراحی شده، تا همه ی نیازهای ساکنان خویش را برآورده، و به نوعی آن‌ها را از دنیای بیرون از برج، بی نیاز می‌کند؛ چیزهایی همانند: «استخر شنا»، «مدرسه»، «فروشگاه مواد غذایی»، «آسانسورهای پرسرعت» و ....؛ از آن جمله هستند

ساختمانی مسکونی، که با چنان امکاناتی آنهم در سال 1975میلادی تصویر شده؛ با نخستین حادثه ی کوچک و کم‌ اهمیت، همچون قطع بسیار کوتاه‌ مدت برق، یا مزاحمت‌های قابل چشم پوشی همسایگان، به آغاز و تشدید سریع خشونت ساکنان، نسبت به یکدیگر، و نسبت به برج می‌انجامد، و چرخه ی تخریب برج آغاز می‌شود؛ در این چرخه، ساکنان برج به سه بخش کلاسیک دنیای مدرن، یعنی: «طبقات پایین»، «طبقات میانی» و «بالایی برج»، دسته بندی می‌شوند، و هر یک از ساکنان بر اساس ساخته و‌ پرداخته‌ های ذهن خویش، از طبقات دیگر، آنان را دشمن خویش می‌پندارند، و به تخریب و محدود کردن امکانات برج، برای طبقات دیگر، می‌پردازند؛ گروه‌های «حمله»، یا «دفاع»، و حتی «شبیخون» و «غارت»، به دیگر طبقات تشکیل می‌شود، و وضعیت برج، روز به‌ روز به وخامت می‌گراید؛ از سوی دیگر، ساکنان که به انزوای برج، از دنیای بیرون خو گرفته‌ اند، موضوع را کاملاً داخلی می‌دانند، و مشکلات خویش را، به مقامات محلی، و پلیس، گزارش نمی‌دهند، و در نتیجه، کمکی هم دریافت نمی‌کنند؛ انزوا و تخریب مداوم برج، به کشتار و تجاوز می‌انجامد؛ و تمام ساکنان، صرف نظر از طبقه‌ شان، ملاحظات اخلاقی و شئون اجتماعی را، کنار می‌گذارند، و به جامعه‌ ای بدوی بدل می‌شوند

نقل از متن: (دایرۀ زنان تنگ‌تر شد؛ نخستین شعله‌ های آتش بلند شد؛ صدای ترق‌ ترق لاک‌ الکل صندلی‌های عتیقه بلند شد؛ زن‌ها از پشت عینک‌های آفتابی‌شان وایلدر را خیره‌ خیره نگاه می‌کردند، انگار کار سختی‌ که کرده‌ بودند اشتهای آنها را برانگیخته‌ بود؛ و بعد همه‌ با هم، از ته جیب‌های بزرگ پیش‌ بندشان چیزی بیرون‌ آوردند؛ در دست‌های خون‌ آلود همه‌ شان کارد بود، کاردهایی با تیغه‌ های باریک؛ اکنون وایلدر خجولانه امّا خوشبخت، تاتی‌ کنان به‌ راه‌ افتاد تا با مادران تازه‌ اش دیداری‌کند)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 15/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 16/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Julie G.
896 reviews2,926 followers
May 23, 2021
I managed to read Lonesome Dove (960 pages) and Gone with the Wind (1037 pages) in nine days, respectively, yet it took me two weeks to read High-Rise (207 pages).

And. . . I considered it approximately 100 pages too long.

I know it's generally a beloved book on here. I know it's frequently a “fan favorite.”

Here's some heartening information: You didn't write it. I didn't write it. J.G. Ballard has passed on and can't be insulted by my three star rating.

Here are my issues:

For me, this little novel said what it had to say in approximately 75 pages. Everything after that felt monotonous and repetitious. There are just so many times that I want to read about the loss of electricity to the building, the throwing of excrement, and/or the damage to the cars in the parking lot.

For me, it made absolutely no sense that the situation in this particular high-rise apartment would go from normal to apocalyptic in a matter of days. It would have made far more sense to me if there had been an actual apocalypse or natural disaster (or perhaps a pandemic??) going on in the world outside of this building. If something disastrous had been going on in the world, it would have made so much more sense to me that the situation degraded as quickly as it did.

For me, there wasn't a single character in this story that felt fully developed or relatable. The only person who I came close to understanding was “Helen,” an intelligent woman whose intellect and mood had greatly deteriorated with the responsibility of raising young children with little support. (I feel you, sister).

For me, I found the writing style melodramatic, and over-the-top. What are “vomit-stained hands?” What do they look like? Who vomits on their own hands?
Why was the “surgeon's voice. . . infused with a strangely cold gaiety, like an erotic machine's?” What's an erotic machine, and where do you buy one? (Seriously, where do you buy one?).
What's “electric flora” and how does it “spring to life?”

For me, there were far too many cheap thrills here. When in doubt: throw excrement! When in doubt: kill the dog! When in doubt: rape the neighbor or have sex with your sister!

For me, the “suspension of belief” that was demanded of me, as a reader, was just far too much to bear. I didn't buy into any of it. I didn't buy the story, that an entire apartment building of people would all respond in the same way, that no one would want to leave the building, that everyone would be aroused in the same way, by the violence. It would have made so much more sense to me if I would have been given characters to believe in, and if I had been given the chance to witness some more realistic outcomes. . . that a certain percentage of residents would have packed their bags and left the building, or called the authorities.

I'm giving this three stars for the CONCEPT. The concept was amazing, in theory, but none of this worked for me.

Half-way through the book, I found myself dreaming of King Kong. I wished he would show up and stand on top of the high-rise with a young Jessica Lange. They made more sense to me, as a couple, than anything that happened in this novel.

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
April 24, 2022
“In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future, boxed up in these expensive apartments with their elegant furniture and intelligent sensibilities, and no possibility of escape.”

Inside 'High-Rise', Ballard's architectural nightmare - CNN Style

In many ways, JG Ballard’s High-Rise reminded me of his earlier dystopian novel, The Drowned World. Conditions in the apartment block at the epicenter of this novel constantly degrade. Like The Drowned World in which creatures adapt to a suddenly changed and very wet Earth, there is continuous adaptation from the apartment dwellers to the pressures of living in what has increasingly become a hostile environment. In this case, the adaptation is something chosen as a way to deal with the new reality.

As it relates to what might be referred to as the rules of civilization, this adaptation is absurd. Residents take pride in their disregard for etiquette, food taboos and hygiene. The squalor of the building increasingly comes to signify the degraded lives of those living within its walls. Amid the squalor, there is a continuous change of expectations. Indeed, what is most astonishing is that residents grasp on to these changed circumstances as normal or getting back to normal. Unlike The Drowned World, there is not really a discernible reason for the change to either the building or its residents. While still connected to an unchanged outside world (this part seems a little dubious), the inhabitants of this high-rise descend into tribalism, class warfare and brutality. High-Rise is an interesting social commentary, with clearly identifiable characters and a strong narrative drive that make it a quick and engaging read. 3.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for Matthias.
107 reviews351 followers
October 17, 2017
As I was walking along the aisles of the bookstore, I suddenly heard a little raspy voice, coming from one of the shelves.

"Psst, four-eyes! Over here!"


It was J.G. Ballard's novel, "High-Rise" , talking to me.

"Don't you look like a jolly chap! All happy and stuff. Not a worry in the world. And so decent! Why are you so goddamn decent all the time?"

"Huh? Are you supposed to be talking?"

"I do whatever I damn well please! Tell me, you look like the kind of goody two shoes who actually LIKES people! So, you have faith in humanity, do you? You believe that people are decent? That you are member of an evolved species capable of the best?"


"Sure. Be that way. But let's put that faith of yours to the test, shall we? Let's start by having you read a little story. Get your filthy hands on me, take me to the counter and then home to bed and read the fuck out of me. Your world will never be the same."

How could I resist?

As I started doing what the book told me, the first thing that struck me was... the beginning. That may seem a little tautological (or whatever the term for that is) but when I say struck I mean STRUCK me to a crisp like a lightning bolt of impressions hitting me square in the head. I'm used to having one first impression, you know, just the one, but not so many at the same time packed in such a small space. The first lines in this novel burst with energy and intrigue, with the absurd and the dangerous, with comedy and tragedy. In short, this book has one of the strongest openings I ever encountered:

"Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension."

This story is about civilized people living in a high-rise of 40 floors. Everything seems fine and dandy at the beginning. The place has two swimming pools, a supermarket, a hair salon and even a little school to educate the kids. All the comfort in the world.

What could go wrong in a building like that? What sinister dimension could possibly be given to a nice environment like this? You'll find out. The more the buildings' services go haywire, the more its inhabitants follow suit. The civilized become savages, and J.G. Ballard depicts the stages both the building and its people go through in entertaining detail, with very tough and dry prose. I for one liked the dissonance between the calm evoked by the employed prose and the barbarity which it described, though it can lead to a reader feeling more like an observer rather than part of the experience.

The central thesis of this story can be summarized with the following quote taken from the book:

"In a sense life in the high-rise had begun to resemble the world outside - there were the same ruthlessness and aggression concealed within a set of polite conventions."

This book doesn't have faith in humanity, it seems to feel that all we've reached so far in terms of morality will be thrown away with little to no hesitation. Doctors, architects, lawyers, pilots and hairdressers alike: we're all savages right underneath our flimsy masks of good manners.

J.G. Ballard has spent some years during his youth in a Japanese prison camp, seeing people being dehumanized by their captors and their circumstances. He was an impressionable youngster when he saw what war did to people and what people brought to war. His cynicism, his narrative bordering on misanthropy, definitely finds some of its roots in those experiences.

I haven't really experienced war, and I hope I never will. But this dystopia felt very real and too close for comfort even without experiences in prison camps. I usually like reading dystopias in part because their comfort lies in the fact they take place in far and distant futures, sometimes on other planets even, making use of technologies that haven't been invented yet. What they describe is very rarely my problem. But this? People raping, pillaging, vandalizing, murdering? Somehow that didn't seem too far out there. It's one of the reasons I stopped watching the news. The early pages in the book were eerily familiar in fact, and from the familiar it dragged me into a nightmare of which I felt it had become inescapable, even in reality.

I myself don't live in a high-rise, but in an apartment building with five floors, along with about 15 households. My neighbors are quite nice, though those living upstairs from me can be loud when arguing or hosting mid-week parties. And there you have it already: tension. Chance encounters in elevators feel like interrogations. "Are you that guy from the 4th floor?", "Aren't you the one who put their garbage out already on Saturday?", "Do you know that family living on the first floor? They've got five kids and they never leave their quarters!", "Do you own a dog?". Luckily, everything remains civil. But the tension is undeniable. We aren't a group of neighborly friends. We barely tolerate each other. And sadly tolerance has its borders. In fact, if Tolerance were a country, it would be a tiny one, with a population seemingly eager to emigrate to Eyeforaneye with The Last Drop-travel services.

A couple of months ago this message was put on the elevator mirror in my building:

I had taken a picture of it because I thought it was funny at the time. In a way, this shows decency. It shows civility, not only by having a rather polite written communication but also through the assumption that it was in fact a dog who did the urinating.

But look at those red, bold, capitalized letters. The lack of specification whether the "it" refers to the dog or the elevator. That exclamation mark put there with so much emphasis it almost pierced the paper. The frustration that shouts from the page. The hatred for whichever dog that decided to make the elevator part of its territory, the loathing for the owner who did not clean up this demarcation.

How many uncivilized pees would it take the note's author to lose it completely?

While I was reading this book, I thought: not many. J.G. Ballard had made me look at society in a very skeptical manner. Polite conventions? It's all a show and there's plenty of people out there who can't wait to drop the act.

This book is dark. And I actually had to catch myself to not make its conclusions my own.

And then I decided, No, I don't agree with my first interpretation of this book. I took it too far. It IS a nightmare, it IS a dystopia, but it will not turn into reality in my apartment. Never. People, much like myself, enjoy being civil. It makes life more pleasant. I'd be very hard pressed to let that go. And I am convinced, I have to believe rather, that I'd hold on to that civility even in hardship and war. My faith in humanity took a beating here, but it only got bruised. My faith in humanity wasn't broken, because I have faith in myself. And I realized that expecting the worst of others never brings out the best in yourself, so I'm trusting my neighbors to stick to writing their notes and start cleaning up after their dogs as well. This book doesn't have to be read as if its scenario is inevitable. It's a warning rather, to keep ourselves in check, for our own sake and of those around us. Dogs included.

I enjoyed this book, as well as the thoughts and nightmares it provoked. I'd definitely recommend reading it, but don't forget to close the door of that high-rise behind you. It's easily a 4-star complex, but you're better off not living there.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
August 13, 2019
Social Sci-Fi

For a few years in the 1980’s I had a flat in Lauderdale Tower at the Barbican in London. All of the Barbican development is brutalist - cast concrete with exposed cast marks etc. - but Lauderdale and it’s sister-towers are particularly extreme examples, sporting pebble-dashed balconies and bare internal walls that reject even the most technologically advanced wallpaper adhesives. I take it from Ballard’s descriptions that English architectural aesthetics hadn’t advanced very far when it came to the Docklands development which was several decades newer.

To call such architecture anti-human might be an exaggeration; but not by much. One can only tell oneself that it is post-modernist chic for so long. The fact is that it is depressing as hell. Even recollecting the lift lobbies provokes the phantasm of concrete dust in my throat. Concrete is as concrete does I suppose. And what it does primarily is drive people mad. As Ballard says, it is “an architecture designed for war.” And a kind of peace-time shell shock is not uncommon.

The problem is its unrelenting uniformity. Placed in proximity to another architectural style, brutalism may look merely bad. But when it is the only game for acres and acres, it presents a complete absence of any aesthetic whatsoever. It’s the equivalent of living in a sensory deprivation chamber. There’s nothing to react to. Everything - people, furniture, social interactions, art - is mediated by a grey blandness which doesn’t highlight any contents but reduces them to an uninteresting drabness. I found that when I wasn’t unaccountably aggressive toward my neighbours, I was becoming incipiently suicidal.

So I can identify with at least one of Ballard’s protagonists, Dr. Laing. High-rise stress is something that creeps up on you. The unconscious reacts slowly to the uniformity of life in identical concrete enclosures by attempting to differentiate itself. It constantly prods the conscious self to demonstrate its individuality. While such psychology is probably active to some degree in every human grouping, it reaches a peak of intensity in an enclosed habitation that provokes it without mercy.

Laing‘s mistake was to believe he could escape the demands of intimate relationships in the supposed anonymity of a large residential building. This is like joining a monastery to avoid family problems. In a high rise, as in a monastery, relationships may be more limited in scope but they are far more intense in their allowable aspects. And both high rise residents and monks have similar techniques for expressing fierce disapproval in complete silence.

Social nuance is proportionately heightened to the degree it is expressively repressed. This creates a pervasive field of energetic tension which needs only the social equivalent of the Higgs boson to create the matter of real violence. And there are many more of these particles to do the job - faulty lifts, interrupted utilities, children, pets, and parties will do the trick.

Ballard puts his finger on the precise mechanism which unleashed a potentially lethal game of tit for tat among the residents: “By its very efficiency, the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behaviour, and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses.”

Talk about sick building syndrome! But of course the ‘structure’ Ballard refers to could equally be the internet, which didn’t come into being until twenty years after High Rise was published. The problem, then, isn’t the building but something in the physiology of human beings (Laing is coincidentally a physiologist) which responds badly when certain, apparently trivial, social interactions are replaced by any ‘rigid,’ that is to say, ‘efficient’ technology.

In other words, people act badly not when social norms are relaxed or abandoned, but when they are no longer apparently needed, when we believe they are enforced without our participation. But social physics is as sensitive to minor changes in structural constants as cosmological physics. Every new technology is a kind of unplanned experiment with variations in sociological constants equivalent to variations in scientific laws like gravity or the weak nuclear force. The main difference of course is that fictions of technology move toward reality rather less predictably.

My flat in the Barbican, by the way, was owned by the Corporation of London. I was therefore a Council tenant. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, Council tenants were entitled to buy their properties at a price about 50% below market value. But about nine months before the scheduled sale date I decided that the certain financial gain was not worth the required mental strain, and moved out. Just an example I suppose of human unpredictability when inhabiting alternative worlds.
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
411 reviews2,220 followers
March 10, 2022
Posted at Heradas Review

A disturbing/enthralling allegory - class struggle, self deception, and the animalistic brutality concealed just below the surface of human civilization.

I knew of Ballard from the new-wave SF of the late 60s / early 70s, particularly Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions compilations, wherein he's described - by Ellison in his story introduction - as one of the few mainstream lit crossovers coming from the world of speculative fiction. He is an eloquently gifted writer, straightforward but poetically descriptive at the same time.

High-Rise is one of those few short novels that could be the topic of a very concise thesis, that ultimately clocks a longer page count than its source material. There is a simple story of ascent/descent at play, but quite a bit of expressive analogy hiding between the lines. There are three main characters, each representing a differing class; lower, middle and upper. This isn't immediately apparent, but becomes clear through their differing motivations and desires as society in the High-Rise begins to break down. Each of their stories play out to their logical, disturbing conclusions.
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,455 followers
July 21, 2014
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
This is one instance where I'm painfully aware of the inadequacy of a star-rating system for books. To give Ballard's High-Rise three stars does very little to capture its strengths, but more importantly, its ultimate failure as a novel. I'm going to try and do that in my review here, but just in case my rambling goes right off the rails, check out Jeffrey's spot-on assessment here.

What brought me to this book is an endless fascination with "group in peril" stories that look at how quickly our civilized veneer can be stripped down to our lizard brain impulses. Great writers have shown us that human beings as a species seem to be hard-wired to regress to a primitive state when confronted with the total absence of social rules and obligations.

In Blindness, Saramago's characters revert to their most primal and baser urges when forced to confront the fallout of a plague of blindness. William Golding manages to show this very same regression to a primitive state in Lord of the Flies when there is a profound absence of law and order and other recognizable earmarks of "civilization" in place. Using the example of a bunch of British school boys stranded on a deserted island, Golding shows us it doesn't take long for humans to throw off the shackles of civilized conduct and resort to a more brutal "survival of the fittest" approach.

Blindness and Lord of the Flies are two great novels that ruthlessly give us a nightmare portrait of human regression that is frightening because of its very realism and believability. And this is where Ballard fails in his attempt because there is no realism or believability in his tale. It is strictly an exercise in description. Create a sprawling high-rise edifice, make it a contained society with all the luxuries of a modern city, populate it with 2,000 tenants, and then, with no tangible reason whatsoever have these people begin to transmogrify into a bunch of cannibalistic savages within the course of a few months. As Jeffrey points out in his review: "the outside world is perfectly normal. Civilization is existing just fine. There is no cataclysmic event that has ruptured the natural order of things. To return to the world of order is as simple as leaving the building."

So yes, the zombies haven't risen up, the aliens have not landed. There is no pandemic flu or super volcano eruption. Beyond the concrete walls of the high-rise, people are going to work, shopping for groceries, putting their kids to bed. Yet within the concrete walls, what you have is a total post-apocalyptic decline into delusion and depravity and for what? This is just too cheap and easy for me to respect. If you're going to make humans go there, I want a reason. Show me how it could really happen.

Alright, no question the novel fails that litmus test. Do I give Ballard the benefit of the doubt here anyway? So he doesn't trouble himself with a realistic scenario, but maybe that was never the point. Published in 1976, maybe Ballard was going more for an allegorical vibe on the dehumanization of modern city living. Maybe this novel is his statement on the rise of urban disconnect -- as we cram more and more people into their self-contained units, living elbow to chin, something fundamental to our higher-brain humanity is being eroded away. This is a book that also has characters who start out very class conscious. When the breakdown begins, fractures open and tribes form along class lines. Yet, strip civilization away, and we all go feral in the same way no matter how much money is in our bank account. Succumbing to our lizard brain seems to be the true great equalizer.

If you so choose as a reader, you could go all LIT 101 on this sucker, but at the end of the day, I can't really be bothered. I'm reminded of the frustrated actor who cries out: "but where's my motivation?" Yes, where is the motivation in this story? What exactly is motivating the characters to behave in such a depraved way? Without that motivation, the other "elements" of the story that may or may not be there are lost on me. I do not care to engage.

So why three stars? Ballard's writing is very good. The execution of this novel may have failed for me, but I still recognized his prose as effective. He put me in that high-rise where I could smell the stink of putrid garbage and human waste. I felt a little on edge at all times, like the fillings in my teeth were vibrating. There are several well-described scenes that chilled me to the bone Just a lukewarm recommendation this time for fans of classic dystopian literature and science fiction of the 60s and 70s. I can say this however -- High-Rise won't be my last Ballard.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,254 followers
April 9, 2020
In the near future High-Rise buildings tower in the sky with thousands of humans living together uneasily , in cramp modern quarters the unknown dangers will reveal their inadequacies soon enough, the setting London in a former slum, the Thames River flows in a leisurely way a short distance from the five edifices separated hundreds of yards from each . The affluent inhabitants living in this forty stories structure will deteriorate, class warfare hidden just under the surface but always ready to show its ugly side...does. Robert Laing, doctor to us, young already divorced was encouraged to move there by older sister Alice, his work close by, a very convenient place. Seeing Charlotte Melville a better reason to stay, as three different societies evolve, the lower section, middle and upper corresponding to their financial status, yes people join clans for protection from roaming murderous bands seeking food , women and enjoying even better, destroying other people's apartments. Anthony Royal one of the architect who built this tenement an appropriate word now, lives in a penthouse above all the chaos below but for how long? Another man Richard Wilder, his name tells everything, big, strong likes violence as nightly drunken parties degenerates civilization, dominates the culture, flying bottles fall hitting the surface of the parking lot underneath and smashing luxury automobile windshields, nobody cares even the owners. Wilder becomes a leader of the marauders he enters rooms abandoned or not vandalizes them and leaving little, just their signs that says they have been here, this is the custom now. Elevators are jammed , done by the crazed , lights go out ( they prefer the gloom), darkness prevails, rubbish piles up, pools turn a different, odorous color, filth grows, pets disappear as hunger spreads these inhabitants can't leave their squalid homes. The atmosphere becomes primitive the strong prey on the weak, putrid-smelling trash in the corridors and stairs trying to keep the intruders from getting pass the floors and the outside world strangely doesn't notice, that is today's climate. Mr.Royal feels safe on the top floor feeding his seagulls who visit him daily, the only creatures he loves, like the lord of the manor he lives, still the 40th story will not prevent the turmoil from reaching here yet the building doesn't concern him, however the noise is heard. This is not a happy read, murder, cannibalism, debauchery , women being attacked it becomes the norm, a prophecy of the near future or an entertaining novel, which one becomes true...that is for the humans to decide.
Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 6 books225 followers
January 16, 2021
After reading Concrete Island, I was confident that even if I read everything Ballard ever wrote, nothing could top it. Then I read High-Rise.

Like Concrete Island, High-Rise depicts the psychological dangers inherent in modern life. But unlike Concrete Island, it has a large cast of characters. This difference is necessitated by the settings of each novel. The traffic island of Concrete Island is a place that is normally uninhabited, so when Maitland crashes there he becomes its sole occupant ~ at least for the first half of the novel. A high-rise condominium is a place that is normally densely populated. As much as I like a novel that explores the psyche of a single character, I think High-Rise rises slightly above Concrete Island in narrative power and scope.

Both novels also feature the themes of isolation and alienation and both use metaphors that present the outer world as a manifestation of the inner world (traits these novels share with The Drowned World ~ the other of the three Ballard books I’ve read so far). But unlike Concrete Island, High-Rise begins almost as a farce, which serves to highlight the deadly serious events that will unfold later in the novel. As the absurdity grows, the comic touches become more and more unsettling.

There are also structural similarities between Concrete Island and High-Rise. In Concrete Island, two characters are introduced in the second half of the novel and the resulting trio represents the three different responses the characters have to the island, and symbolically, to modern society. High-Rise has many characters, yet the drama is focused on three: the main character, Robert Laing, and two other symbolically named characters, Richard Wilder and Anthony Royal. Together they represent the three social classes: Wilder representing the lower class, Laing the middle class, and Royal the upper class.

While the movement of the story parallels the upward movement of Wilder, a literal social climber who spends half the novel climbing from his second floor apartment to Royal’s penthouse at the top of the building, the central character is Laing who, Royal observes, was probably the high-rise’s “most true tenant” (91).

The story begins and ends with Laing. When he is introduced to us, we are told that “everything had returned to normal” (13), but a few sentences later Ballard casually mentions that Laing is roasting dog meat over a fire of telephone directories. The story that follows tells of the events of the past three months that led to this distinctly abnormal scene.

Laing came to the high-rise to avoid relationships. Newly divorced, he seeks isolation. Like Maitland, he has issues with his mother and his wife and would rather have superficial dealings with other people than become emotionally involved. The high-rise is highly suited to this lifestyle. And this is ironic. The high-rise houses hundreds of families. It includes a supermarket, a children’s school, swimming pools, and other amenities. On the surface, it would seem to be a place that fosters community, yet it does just the opposite. The residents drink heavily, suffer insomnia, and watch their televisions with the sound turned down.

Thus the high-rise represents Laing’s inner state as well as the state of modern society. Ballard’s metaphors forge the link between the physiologist and his surroundings. Professionally, Laing studies the workings of the body. He teaches his medical students to dissect bodies. Symbolically, the high-rise represents his mind and the world around it is the body. When he views the landscape from his balcony, he sees “the disturbed encephalograph of an unresolved mental crisis” (16). The building itself is “the unconscious diagram of a mysterious psychic event” (34). The curved sides of the empty artificial lake are “as menacing as the contours of some deep reductive psychosis” (126). Ballard’s Dr. Laing must surely be named after R. D. Laing, the existential psychologist who analyzed the schizoid mind in The Divided Self.

As conditions in the high-rise break down, the mental state of the residents breaks down too. The changes that occur in Laing and the others are symptomatic of mental illness. At first, when the building services begin to break down, they complain to the management, but as time passes they just give in to the gradual decline in functioning. They lose interest in the outside world. They neglect their hygiene. And they live in a perpetual fog ~ which is a literal fog composed of the effluvium of the decaying garbage that litters the building. It is a “surrender to a logic more powerful than reason” (75).

As Ballard analyzes the inner state of the residents he also makes a statement about the outer world: “life in the high-rise had begun to resemble the world outside” (176). This analysis of life in the microcosm of the high-rise calls to mind another psychological analysis of modern society: Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. The residents rebel against the artificial restraints imposed by modern life. As civilization breaks down, they increasingly give in to their repressed impulses. By the end, their priorities have reverted to the most fundamental urges: food, sex, and violence. Royal, who perches at the top of the building and the hierarchical structure that the building represents, is relieved to see this rebellion taking place. He relishes the destruction of the artificial social order to which the residents too easily conformed.

As usual with a Ballard novel, the descriptive imagery is vivid and powerful and the narrative style befits the story. In the beginning, the contrast between the wealthy professionals and their deteriorating environment is comical.

Garbage lay heaped around the jammed disposal chutes. The stairways were littered with broken glass, splintered kitchen chairs and sections of handrail...” (107).

“... Fire safety doors leaned off their hinges, quartz inspection windows punched out. Few corridor and staircase lights still worked, and no effort had been made to replace the broken bulbs. By eight o'clock little light reached the corridors, which became dim tunnels strewn with garbage sacks” (107).

“... the swimming-pool, now barely half full. The yellow water was filled with debris, the floor at the shallow end emerging like a beach in a garbage lagoon. A mattress floated among the bottles, surrounded by a swill of cardboard cartons and newspapers” (108).

Residents are typically referred to by their profession and floor number. The building takes on the appearance and atmosphere of a crime-ridden inner city. Residents patrol the corridors like gang members protecting their territory. Garbage piles up as services break down. Graffiti defaces the walls. Women are unsafe. Vigilantes dispense justice. Vagrants roam the secret recesses of the building. Vandalism is rampant. And all of this becomes increasingly normalized as evidenced by the characterization of appalling acts of violence as “trivial.”

During the previous hour a few trivial incidents had occurred—the middle-aged wife of a 28th-floor account-executive had been knocked unconscious into the half-empty swimming-pool, and a radiologist from the 7th floor had been beaten up among the driers in the hairdressing salon—but in general everything within the high-rise was normal” (112).

The residents organize themselves into clans and tribal units and it soon becomes apparent that a confrontation between Wilder and Royal is inevitable. Royal is the architect who designed the building and he identifies himself with the building. While he waits in his penthouse, literally looking down on all the other denizens of the high-rise, Wilder fights his way upwards. What has he got to lose? As an occupant of the lowest level of the hierarchy, there is only one way to go. By the same logic, the occupant at the top likewise has only one way to go. And this is why the battle will be between the lower and the upper levels.

Wilder is a television producer. Early in the story he is working on a documentary on prison unrest. For him, the high-rise becomes increasingly oppressive. He sees his apartment as a prison cell, specifically, a cell in “the psychiatric wing of the prison” (57). The other high-rise buildings that are still under construction are likened to “Alcatraz” (65). It’s no wonder he develops a “phobia about the high-rise” (61).

But a regression is taking place and it doesn’t end with clans and tribes. Eventually even this structure breaks down. The era of “clubs and spears” (153) gives way to an even more primitive way of life. Solitary hunters replace tribal units. It is the era of the caveman, of “Neanderthal” grunts (169). The lapse in personal hygiene characteristic of mental illness is now a point of pride. Laing likes being dirty. He stinks and he relishes the odor emitted by his unwashed body.

The sweat on Laing’s body, like the plaque that coated his teeth, surrounded him in an envelope of dirt and body odour, but the stench gave him confidence, the feeling that he had dominated the terrain with the products of his own body” (130).

As in Concrete Island, “dominating the terrain” is dominating himself. Laing is becoming more himself as he sheds the last vestiges of civilization. The discontent that was a necessary consequence of civilization is fading as Laing gives in to his primitive instincts. As his false self gives way, he no longer suffers from a divided self. Royal, on the other hand, can only wait to be dethroned as Wilder urinates, defecates, and rapes his way to the top.

By the end, a complete social restructuring has occurred. No longer are deviant impulses repressed. Human nature, in all its primitive brutality, flourishes. What happens next, what the new normal will look like, is uncertain. Perhaps it will be wildly beautiful like a flock of predatory birds rising from their nest on the roof of the high-rise. Perhaps it will be as depraved as a freed harem of cannibalistic mothers roving the building unchecked. But whatever it is, it will not be false. It will not be artificial. It will not be meaningless.
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews351 followers
August 16, 2018
High Rise gives us a story that confirms that we are merely living in a pretence civilised world. This pretence can be blown to pieces in an amazingly short time given the right conditions. If we feel that it is no longer necessary to obey to civil manners, it is immediately clear that primal urges are only skin deep.
The destruction of the social life of the High Rise apartment complex of 40 floors starts simple enough. A bottle of champagne is dropped deliberately on the nice mosaic floor of Dr. Laing, one of the main protagonists. The next day, numerous bottles are dropped from lots of balconies, followed by furniture, which is subsequently followed by the blocking of elevators to certain floors. Almost overnight, a feeling of delight seems to take hold of the tenants. They were all rather affluent civilised people, but they are now surrendering to fighting in gangs, raiding other floors, killing pets, taking women and being proud of their war wounds. Elevators stop or are barricaded. Garbage chutes are blocked and broken down, leaving garbage everywhere. Life in the High Rise is now solely focussed on fighting, finding food and leaving scary messages on the corridor walls.

I cannot recall having ever read a novel similar to this one before. In fact, you cannot call it a dystopian book, as life outside the building goes on as usual. This book really caught me unawares. Very impressive! I will surely never forget it.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,372 followers
September 26, 2022

Like the High-Rise apartment block itself, Ballard's novel works on many different levels. It also contains an unforgettable opening line that might be hard to swallow for dog lovers!

This darkly satirical and dystopian-esque urban tale might have seemed completely crazy back in the 70's, but the scary thing is that reading it today it's not as far away from reality as one might think. At least parts of it anyway. Normally, this is the type of novel I'd laugh off as totally ridiculous. But not this one. I actually learnt a lot, as to how easy it is that life can suddenly, out of nowhere, just descend into utter chaos, and can we as human beings overcome fear, hunger, isolation, and find the courage and cunning to survive, defeating anything that the elements can throw at us? Ballard touches on the themes of social structures, architectural failures, and primal instincts, and while three men - Richard Wilder, Anthony Royal - occupant of the penthouse, and Dr Robert Laing all feature heavily in the book, there is no question that the main protagonist (or should that be antagonist) is the luxury substantially self-contained high-rise building itself, which so disorients its residents that they forget their jobs in the outside world, and, in the end, forget the outside world completely.

Ballard cleverly doesn't just dump the building in as a backdrop for his characters to take center stage, but rather makes it an integral and distinctive part of the whole story. From the mysterious drained swimming pools and broken elevators, to the abandoned apartments and vandalized shops, he focuses significantly on the physical surroundings and the drastic effects they had on the psyches of those living within its walls. The problems might start off light with some rudeness and class friction, but soon things catastrophically spiral out of control into gang violence and warfare between the floors. It's full on implosion! Some scenes I just couldn't quite believe. I also can't believe it was possible to make a film out of this. I haven't seen it, but would amazing if it isn't toned-down somewhat.
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
May 5, 2019
Having read all of his short stories some time ago, I’ve finally decided to check out his full length novels. His short stories are famous for being vivid and imaginative, not to mention incredibly prophetic, but let me say that this book is like nothing I've read before (perhaps Saramago emulates in “Blindness” the mass hysteria of a people left to fend for themselves [or who prefer it that way] in a similar way… it has some traces of “Lord of the Flies” [and Margaret Atwood definitely owes him for her own dips into the realm of sci fi, not to mention Don Delillo] and even the film “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead” is a cinematic equivalent). The guy, Ballard, takes the stuff from your dreariest of dreams, from your most melancholic nightmares, and the novel transports you to a surreal place where the reader succumbs to a spell very few others can successfully contrive.

This is one satanic “Titanic.” It’s an insidious “Poseidon Adventure.” Clever, scary, morbid, new: metaphorical. Truly, really, the most horrific thing in this world is a crowd with one uniting thought hovering over their heads, with a taste for blood on their lips (and doesn't Stephen King know this!). These people are the REAL zombies.

Indeed, it’s a horror novel; and one of the best at that. I read it deep into the night, like only the best books deserve to be read. It was one sitting that was well worth the cramping of the limbs & the soreness of the spine.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
876 reviews1,106 followers
June 9, 2016
Oh J.G. Ballard. I just don't think we are meant to be friends.

Other than Crash, High-Rise is the only other thing that I have ever been interested in reading by Ballard. I saw the film adaptation with Tom Hiddleston, which I enjoyed (although felt it was a little style over substance), so when I saw that the audiobook was narrated by Hiddleston himself, I decided to try Ballard again in a slightly different form.

Hiddleston is a great narrator, and even employs different accents in his reading which I really appreciated. However, I don't think he was enough to truly make me like this book. It was just okay.

It follows the residents of a high-rise building, who descend into savagery in their isolation. Floors wage war against each other, society collapses within this contained space. It's also a comment on class, with the further up the building representing the higher classes, who have more opportunities, better utilities, etc.

I had that same problem with High-Rise as I did with Crash in that it was so repetitive. I don't think this was helped by listening to it as an audiobook, as I always find it a little harder to concentrate on fiction audiobooks than I do physical books, but I just found that the events all melded together far too much. The pacing (much like the movie) was strange because it seemed to escalate very quickly, and then just stay there for around the remaining 70% of the book. It's quite anti-climactic when you think about it.

I also really disliked Ballard's representation of women in this book, which I think a lot of people have commented on in their reviews. The female characters are not well drawn, very flat, and rely on the men in the building to survive. Ballard's bizarre obsession with male sexuality is also made incredibly apparent in this book, with frequent reference to one character's 'heavy loins'. Women are assaulted, men expose themselves left right and centre, Laing even seems to fantasize sexually about his own sister... It's just a bit of a mess.

I lost track of what was happening a lot of the time, but I think that was due to a very minimal plot. The book was more of an idea than a story, and while the ideas in this book are incredibly interesting, almost Lord of the Flies-esque, it wasn't enough to make this a good book. But props to Hiddleston for reading it so well.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
January 25, 2018
"The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective body of tenants, but the individual resident in isolation."
- JG Ballard, High-Rise


I love Ballard. He both attracts and repels me at the same time. No. That isn't quite it. He freaks the hell out of me. His stories and novels are so damn sharp and prescient. 'High-Rise' was written in 1975 (43 years ago!), right after Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), but he seems to GET the psychology of Twitter and Facebook. He gets Trump. He GETS Trump hotel.

It is easy to just call this novel a Lord of the Flies for adults, or a LOTF in a high-rise apartment complex, but that summary misses the unique vision of civilization Ballard is painting. It is like saying 'Crash' is about sex and car crashes, or 'Concrete Island' is living on the Freeway. Yes! Certainly. But, you floor neighbors are missing the whole point. Ballard was painting our now. Not with facts, but with parables and dark visions of civilization, technology, human nature, and class. His isn't an optimistic vision, but it is kinda amazing. I read Concrete Island and Crash YEARS ago in college, but missed this one. I'll have to go back and re-read them both.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews185 followers
August 26, 2018
It’s been a while since I’ve entered the unsettling world of J G Ballard. A surreal world in which the thin veneer of ‘civilised’ life is tested again and again.
High Rise (1975) is a novel set in a tower block that reaches high into the sky. It explores some of the themes that will be developed further in future Ballard novels.
Ballard examines how the lives of professional, cultured people quickly unravel if placed in closed communities, free from the accepted moral framework of the outside world .......... in this case a posh tower block. Amid the supermarkets, swimming pools, restaurants and schools of the tower we see petty conflicts escalate. The universal human characteristics of self interest, distrust, cruelty and fearfulness soon take over.
The inhabitants of the tower - lawyers, industrialists, doctors, airline pilots etc find it harder and harder to connect with the outside world. Tribes form, a class structure emerges and then disintegrates in a mess of violence, sexual depravity, filth and eventually listlessness.
Doctor Laing and Anthony Royal (The Architect) are typical Ballard characters - urbane, reasonable and unremarkable. They look on calmly, with clear eye and slightly detached manner as chaos and darkness floods the world around them.
The writing is simple and matter of fact which only intensifies the savagery which you know is coming.
I don’t think High Rise is as effective as later novels exploring the same themes such as Cocaine Nights, Super Cannes and Millennium People but it’s a thought provoking introduction to the dark (and not very cheerful) world view of J G Ballard.
Profile Image for Marti .
250 reviews116 followers
July 6, 2021
Tom Hiddleston could literally read anything and I would love hearing him. Having said that, this book has way too much body odor, excrement, dog eating, urine, and elevator maintenance. I thought the book would answer some of the questions I had after watching the movie, but all it did was awake more.
It’s an original story, but the goal isn’t clear. There’s no real plot, just a bunch of scenes stuck together.
If you’re interested in this story I would advise you to watch the movie rather than read the book. If you really want to read the book, do yourself a favor and get the audiobook, you’ll thank me when you hear Tom.
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,596 reviews287 followers
May 26, 2023
“Let the psychotics take over. They alone understood what was happening.”
― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

This is a tough book to write a review on. I read it actually quite awhile ago and am still not sure how I feel about it.

I have always hated High Rises. I remember once when I was apartment hunting I looked at an apartment at one of the top floors of a very attractive High Rise. There was nothing wrong with the building in question, nor the apartment. Both seemed clean and well maintained. But I did not want to live there and in the end I did not take the apartment.

I think there is something..just sort of gloomy about High Rises themselves. I am not a city person by nature but seeing a High Rise always made me think of being hemmed in, not like I was free. So I have NO PROBLEM in taking this book seriously.

This book was also given to me by someone who knows my tastes and thought I'd like it. And I did in a way. It is a nasty unpleasant read. There is no joy..not much of anything positive really..in the pages. And although it is relatively short it seems to go on for quite a long time. It feels way longer than it is.

I think for me, one of the negatives is there really is not much of a plot. Not to be overly simplistic but..these people in the high rise are losing their minds, their souls but that is literally all we know about them and the book is pretty much about the cruelty they inflict on each other. I have seen this compared to "Lord of the flies" and that happens to be one of my all time favorites but I'd not compare the two. LOTF had an almost pulsating power I really did not feel here.

To be honest I just felt like getting to the end as soon as possible. That does not mean I did not like the book. But it is an awfully tough read and I'd have liked more dialogue and less repetitive stuff. There is much repetition in High Rise.

So, I guess I'd (sort of) recommend it. It does make for interesting reading but it is not anywhere near a favorite read of mine.
Profile Image for Emmanuel Kostakis.
58 reviews54 followers
July 3, 2023
5 huge stars! JG Ballard depiction of a debauched microcosmos; an urban 'Lord of the Flies' on steroids. A dystopian parody of the social and economic class division… not very farfetched. A futile attempt to climb the layers of the high-rise to reach Shangri-La.

Ballard is utilizing the setting of the “New Brutalist” tower as a lab- experiment to confine and isolate the residents and then observe their behavior as they lapse in to madness and paranoia:
A community mirroring a viral infection that goes berserk! Collapse of any moral inhibition or logical behavior. Primal instincts that oblige a descent into savagery, destroying any form of dignity and self-respect. Sociopaths hovering 40 floors of absolute concrete madness, embracing the futility of the absurd regression. Crime and destruction becomes the norm.

Tried to find a likable character in this novel (Laing, Wilder, Anthony Royal...), but to no avail (perhaps the dead dog in the pool!).

“Ballardian” transgressive fiction at its best. Provocative “avant garde” writing in both form and content.
“The contrast between the careful, ordered sentences and the madness they describe is delicious.”(Sam Jordison/The Guardian): “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months”…

Loved it!
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,528 reviews978 followers
December 25, 2015

High-Rise is not an easy novel to fit into a specific genre. It's not exacly science-fiction because the time frame is contemporary England (cca. 1975). Yet the novel does try to use a scientific approach to the study of human behaviour - psychology. So, I guess you can call it 'soft' SF. You can also call it a dystopian novel, a horror novel or a thriller, but for me the best description is as an adult, x-rated version of "Lord of the Flies"

Now the new order had emerged, in which all life within the high-rise revolved around three obsessions - security, food and sex.

Like William Golding, Ballard isolates a sample of humanity into a closed environment, puts them under stress and then records the degradation of the social structures and of the moral compass of the group and of its individual members. The selection and the separation are achieved by making all the members of the group live together in a new high-rise building at the outskirts of London, first brought together by common interest and similar liberal jobs, later united by the traumatic experiences they are going through.

The two thousand tenants formed a virtually homogenous collection of well-to-do professional people - lawyers, doctors, tax consultants, senior academics and advertising executives, along with a smaller group of airline pilots, film-industry technicians and trios of air-hostesses sharing apartments. 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 atitudes, fads and styles.

The whys and hows of the setting felt contrived to me, but for the purpose of the psychological exercise of the author, lets accept them as stated here. For the first months of communal living, things worked pretty well, given the affluency and high education of most of the members. Two major forces though work against them: the infrastructure that was supossed to provide every comfort required by modern living is faulty both in design and in execution - elevators get stuck between floors, electricity comes and goes, garbage chutes are clogged, air conditioning is unreliable, parking places are distributed far from the entrances to the high-rise, etc. Secondly, even in such a homogenous professional group of tenants, there exists social tensions, clearly expressed through the actual vertical position of apartments in the high-rise: the 'blue-collars' mostly in the lower 10 floors, the 'bourgeoisie' in the middle 10 to 35 floors, and the 'aristocracy' in the top five floors and penthouses. Taken as a fable of modern living, the novel sets out to explode the myth of upward social mobility and underlines the exacerbation of selfishness over the needs of the community.

The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective bodies of the tenants, but the individual resident in isolation. Its staff of air-conditioning conduits, elevators, garbage-disposal chutes and electrical switching systems provided a never-failing supply of care and attention that a century earlier would have needed an army of tireless servants.

When the servants go on strike (repeated failures of electricity, garbage, water supplies), the first answer of the tenants is to start partying every night, like Nero singing and dancing while Rome burns around him. The parties are also the equivalent of circling the wagons and gathering together the tribe, organizing the resistance against the outsiders.
Who are these outsiders? The neighbors living on the floors under you, the dirty, promiscuous, lazy bastards that used to be your friends a couple of weeks before. As the services of the high-rise building continue to deteriorate, so does the thin layer of civilization melt away from the personalities of the tenants, leaving behind the animal instinct to violently protect the nest, to prey on the weak, to hoard food, to procreate. In the later phases of this terrible return to origins, even the tribal connections are severed and the individual is left alone with his fears, with his subconscious, with his 'eat or be eaten' simplified moral code.

This building must have been a powerhouse of resentments - everyone's working off the most extraordinary backlog of infantile aggressions.

For some reason, while I admired the intellectual exercise proposed by the author, I could not buy into the premise. The isolation of the tenants feels contrived: they give up on their jobs, they have no relatives visiting, there is no one from outside curious to check out what is going on inside the building. The switch from socially emancipated upper class professionals to wild animals also feels unnaturally accelerated. I personally believe that the instinct to help each other in a time of crisis is stronger than the impulse to grab whatever you can and run. Thirdly, I felt that the use of Freudian psychoanalysis was heavy handed, didactic. The tenants were treated as case patients with advanced phobias, not like regular, socially integrated adults. I know there are people with problems in any given group, but I find it hard to accept that they are a clear majority or than none of them is able to control his/her hidden urges.

The model here seems to be less the noble savage than our un-innocent post-Freudian selves, outraged by all that over-indulgent toilet-training, dedicated breast-feeding and parental affection - obviously a more dangerous mix than anything our Victorian forebears had to cope with. Our neighbours had happy childhoods to a man and still feel angry. Perhaps they resent never having had a chance to become perverse ...

On the plus size, once you accept that, under very stressful circumstances, people do act under the influence of their subconscious, Ballard's exercise is not gratuitous, and the problems raised here form part of the alienation associated with modern life. Hyperbole, exaggeration is a valid artistic tool to get the point across. There is no denying the existence of a voyeuristic component in a population that lives a mostly routine, sheltered life. They get their thrills by vicariously living other people's tragedies, watching on their television screens for disasters and crimes and accidents. I believe this aspect will be the one that will stay with me the longest from the present book. One of the main characters, a TV producer, carries everywhere with a him a camera, planning to document the fast degrading situation in the high-rise, but in fact using it just as an excuse for prying into everybody else's affairs. Another character, the arhitect who designed the building and lives at the top of the food chain, takes a similar spectator view of the proceedings:

Without knowing it, 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.

Which bring me to the conclusion of a conflicted review : I found the novel both interesting and repulsive, both insightful and contrived. I started by comparingthe story with "Lord of the Flies" and I arrived by the end at a giant version of the Big Brother Reality Show, with 2000 people locked together into a space filled with cameras and egged on to attack each other for the entertainment of a jaded audience. Recommended, with some reservations.

For an alternative read about what happens to humanitY in a crisis, try Blindness by Jose Saramago, which manages to be both bleaker and more hopeful than Ballard.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
October 24, 2017

Storie di ordinaria follia

Chi non ha mai assistito a litigi tra condomini per l'uso delle parti comuni, per il gioco a pallone dei bambini in giardino? O alle lamentele tra vicini per la televisione troppo alta o per le feste dei ragazzi? O a discussioni per parcheggi e posti auto, per l'immondizia o la manutenzione degli ascensori?
Cose normali dovute alla forzata convivenza di tante teste e tante famiglie negli stessi palazzi. Basta un po' di buon senso (che di solito non c'è), tanta pazienza (ce ne vuole un'enormità), un po' di civiltà e notevole flessibilità (l'arte del compromesso portata agli estremi) per riuscire a venirne fuori.

Ma cosa succederebbe se buon senso, civiltà, pazienza e flessibilità venissero meno e fossero sostituite da antagonismo, odio, cattiveria e rigidità nelle proprie posizioni? Immaginiamo che ciò possa succedere in un grande condominio, con tante parti comuni che lo rendano perfettamente autosufficiente a mantenere la vita di tutti gli inquilini. Mettiamoci un po' di differenze sociali; ad esempio ai piani alti le classi più agiate e a scendere quelle meno abbienti. Mettiamoci le varie discussioni tipiche dei grandi condominii.

Il risultato forse sarebbe una esplosione di violenza devastante, come quella rappresentata da Ballard in questo romanzo angosciante.

Alla base della regressione che avviene tra i condomini ci sono forse le differenze e le aspettative sociali, che causano prima una generica irritazione, poi antagonismo, poi insopportazione, poi odio, poi cattiveria e per finire follia pura.

Forse, sotto sotto, seguiamo le regole e la morale solo in particolari condizioni di benessere e quando sono soddisfatti i nostri bisogni primari. Quando questi vengono meno, tendiamo ad assomigliare ad animali; la razionalità viene sostituita dall'istinto, il diritto con la legge del più forte, la logica del singolo sostituita con quella del branco, il comportamento individuale annegato dal senso di appartenenza ad un gruppo.

Ballard non ci dà alcuna risposta, si limita a scrivere una storia che non può non colpirci per la violenza, l'assurdità e follia contenute. Ossia per quelle cose che vediamo spesso, troppo spesso, anche sui quotidiani...
Profile Image for Brightness.
279 reviews67 followers
September 5, 2016
I realize that this book was written in 1976 - which can possibly explain some of the reasons why I take it to task. With that said...


We open on the balcony of one Robert Laing, who is noshing on a partially eaten dog and thinking with wonder about the events of the past months which have brought him to his current situation.

Not a bad way to begin a book. I'm down.

As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the High Rise - an ultra-modern luxury apartment building, 40 stories high, with a school, a supermarket, a swimming pool, and a rooftop garden. It's its own little community and, other than the everyday jobs that people have go to, there is very little reason to leave the building itself.

There are a few minor problems, of course. The building is laid out pretty straightforward according to class. The lower floors are occupied by the lower class, the middle floors by the middle class, and the upper most floors are reserved for the very, very wealthy. Shortly after the novel begins, electricity becomes unreliable on the lower floors. A few petty arguments and provocations between the floors lead to some minor altercations and retaliations. But pretty soon, civility digresses to non-existent and the entire high rise descends into utter chaos as the tenants revert to the most basest forms of human beings.

It sounds like Lord of the Flies with adults, right? And it is. The High Rise becomes the island on which our characters are stranded, on which civilization completely breaks down.

But no, High Rise is not like Lord of the Flies for one big, huge, massive, glaring reason. And that's why I can't rate this novel any higher than I do. But we'll get to that later. Let's talk about where High Rise succeeds first.



Yeah, I really loved this place. The mid-70's modern architecture, devoid of emotion and teeming with decadence. J.G. Ballard imagined a very realistic world which becomes a character in it's own right. Maybe the most important character of all. And anytime a place feels like it's own living entity, I am all in.


Really superb. The setting and descriptions were amazing. I cannot fault J.G. Ballard at all for his writing - style or delivery. I listened to the audio version of this book and it reads beautifully.

(Side note/confession - I purchased this audio book for the sole reason that it is read by Tom Hiddleston. I would listen to an entire compendium of Kanye West rants if Tom Hiddleston read them to me.)


Ballard gives us three main protagonists - one from each section of the high rise.

Richard Wilder - an aspiring documentary filmmaker from the lower section
Robert Laing - a doctor from the middle section
Anthony Royal - the architect of the high rise and dweller of the penthouse

Each of these character's descent into their most primal states was very interesting to watch unfold and I thought he captured each of them brilliantly on the page.



Ha! I do this every time. Put something I liked into the "dislike" section as well.

But I have good reason. The characters Ballard failed at were the female characters. Now again, I realize that this novel was written and published in the 70's, but I kind of think anything written after the 60's should be a little more progressive when it comes to women.

I was extremely disappointed in the representation of the female characters. Every single female character was written as completely helpless, completely incompetent, and completely reliant on men for survival.

And not just in a "oh help, I'm a damsel in distress, please save me, wink wink," sort of way.

Richard Wilder's wife becomes despondent and cannot even care for herself, let alone her own children, amidst the violence and uncertainty of the High Rise. Richard eventually leaves her to fend for herself because she is weak and, you know, survival-of-the-fittest.

Robert Laing's sister becomes ill and unable to care for herself, leaving Robert to fend for the both of them.

Many women are raped and sexually assaulted, because, you know, spread your seed and stuff. Most of them just take it. And no one stands up for them. Ever. Not one single person raises their voice against the violence and aggression.

And all women are sex objects or bargaining chips in the world of High Rise

I feel like even Dickens or Tolstoy would have written female characters of stronger mettle if they were tasked to write a dystopian novel.

If this was a book set in the stone age, I could more readily accept this kind of nonsense. But I can't because all of these characters know better. They aren't a handful of school boys who suddenly find themselves without adult supervision because they've crash landed on an island in the middle of nowhere. They are all adults, who have spent their entire lives raised in civilization. Which brings me to my next point, and perhaps the most egregious failure, of High Rise.


Yes, you heard me right. They. Can. Leave.

Unlike Lord of the Flies, where our characters are completely stranded, or even other dystopian novels where civilization has broken down everywhere, the High Rise is the only place that is affected by this ridiculous decline of modern man. Civilization still exists. They can look out their windows and see it with their own eyes. They can walk out the door and rejoin it at any time.

This place is a fucking nightmare, and people choose to stay. Willingly. As if they have no other freaking choice.

Wilder's wife is starving. Her children are starving. Her husband leaves her for extended periods of time. At one point, she even faints from hunger. But does she leave? Does she take her children by the hands and walk out the door and get in her car and drive down the road to a fucking supermarket? NO! She wastes away in her freaking apartment.


Robert Laing's sister becomes ill. At one point, it even crosses his mind that she may be dying. Robert Laing is a doctor and a well-educated man. Does it ever cross his mind to take her to a hospital? NO! Instead he goes marauding to other apartments in search of food and water in order to take care of her.


Wilder's wife finally decides she's had enough and makes the decision to take her sons and leave the apartment. Does she head down the building and exit that dangerous, unsurvivable place? Does she take her children to safety and get them food and water? NO! She heads UP the stairs with them. Climbing the floors full of murderers and rapists and dog-eaters and cannibals, because it must be safer the higher she climbs, right?


There is no one guarding the doors of the lobby. No one keeping tenants from leaving. In fact, a lot of them still put on their nice clothes and GO TO WORK every day, only to return to the High Rise every evening. The High Rise, with no electricity and no food and no water and warring factions and people dying and barricades and refuse and waste. They return to it every night OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL.

because WHY?!?

Food is the most important thing when it comes to survival. Even our neanderthal ancestors knew that. You can glance around the animal kingdom and see that that's still true. Yet all of these characters are starving. And food is just a short car ride away. These people aren't destitute. They have money. WHEN YOU ARE IN SURVIVAL MODE YOU GO WHERE THE FOOD IS. But these people don't seem to care.

At one point, one of the characters is standing on his balcony after the High Rise has descended into utter chaos, and he sees a police car pulling up to the building. Several men in their suits are heading out to work for the day. Before the police man can exit his car and check out the building, of which only a few feet into the lobby would tip him off to all kinds of criminal activity, the men in their suits approach the car and begin talking to the officer. The man on the balcony cannot hear what they are saying, but they must have appeased the officer because eventually he turns around and leaves and never comes back.

This shit goes on for months, and that is the only police officer that ever comes to check on the High Rise.

This story just isn't believable to me for a multitude of reasons and I couldn't logically suspend my disbelief at any time long enough to accept what was happening. There is no magic or magical realism in this book. It isn't a fantasy. And it isn't a post-apocalyptic world where I can accept that these kind of things happen without question.

Are you telling me, that in a 40-story building with hundreds and hundreds of residents, that not one single person ever called the police or thought about leaving?? Not one. Not one of the tenant's family members or places of employment ever notified authorities that they couldn't get a hold of a son or daughter or coworker who had failed to show up to work for weeks? Not one.

Nope. Sorry. I just can't handle this. There are too many loose ends. Too many plot holes. Too many unresolved questions.

I realize that this book is an allegory of the urbanization or modernization of man and his soul or civilization as a whole. But I just couldn't buy into it, as hard as I damn well tried. I wish I could rate this book higher because it is really well written and it does have a promising concept, but the execution utterly failed for me.

I would one star this book, but the writing is just too damn good.

But even with all it's faults will I watch the upcoming movie adaptation?

Why yes. Yes, I will. Because...

Profile Image for Dream.M.
506 reviews90 followers
May 14, 2023
۳ و نیم
خیلی دلم میخواست برای این کتاب ریویوو مفصل بنویسم ولی پی.تی.اس.دی دوباره منو ساییده و دچار سندرم خب که چی شدم.
من صوتی کتابو از نوار شن��دم، خوب بود ، گاهی خیلی خوب هم شد، داستان ظاهرا لایه های روانشناختی هم داره و حسابی عاشقان فروید رو ارضا میکنه. خوندنش باحاله خلاصه.
ضمنا این برج رو با اون یکی برج که جلدش قرمزه اشتباه نگیرید.
Profile Image for Arwen56.
1,218 reviews271 followers
March 15, 2015

Per carità, carissima, che non ti venga in mente di leggerlo, perché si tratta di un'altra banda di squinternati, che seviziano gatti, mangiano cani, si ammazzano a vicenda senza alcun motivo, affogano nella spazzatura e negli escrementi, giocano alcuni a fare dio, altri a fare i bambini dell'asilo e, per soprammercato, sono pure felici che le cose stiano così.

A dispetto dei fiumi di inchiostro spesi per elogiare questo libro, a me non è piaciuto proprio per niente. L’autore voleva descrivere uno stato di regressione dell’uomo e l’ha fatto, fregandosene altamente di spiegare sia perché questo accada, sia perché i protagonisti dovrebbero esserne tanto soddisfatti. Succede e basta.

Mi spiace, ma questo modo di intendere la narrativa non è assolutamente il genere che fa per me. Tratteggiare qualche “fuori di testa” che fa questa o quella cazzata, senza fornire alcun percorso emotivo o psicologico che giustifichi l’evolversi della situazione, mi pare un discorso completamente sterile. Alla fine, non ne sappiamo un accidenti di più di quello che sapevamo all’inizio. Senza contare che manca anche qualsiasi piacere nel godimento della scrittura, che è più piatta di un asse da stiro. Sempre gli stessi aggettivi, sempre le stesse povere frasi, sempre le stesse descrizioni. Ma per favore!

Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
August 28, 2016
High-Rise: Lord of the Flies in an urban luxury high-rise
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
MOVIE UPDATE: I finally got around to watching the 2015 film version of High Rise, directly by Ben Wheatley and starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Siena Miller, Luke Evans, and Elizabeth Moss. How to assess? Well, it is a valiant attempt to replicate Ballard's bizarre and surrealistic story of social elites battling the lower classes in a fancy new high-rise and willfully descending into barbarism and hedonism. Visually it's very distinctive, a series of disturbing set pieces of depravity set to classical music, often in slow motion without dialogue, and artistically-staged mayhem and decay. Overall I'd say it would be pretty hard to understand the underlying points Ballard was trying to make without the benefit of reading the book, which is generally the case. My wife absolutely hated it - couldn't understand a bit of it. I'm more ambivalent - I respect the effort, but prefer the ruthless social critiques of the novel.


If you had the chance, would you live in a massive, 1,000-unit luxury high-rise, with it’s own supermarket, liquor shop, schools, pools, gyms, etc? Instead of living in some dreary suburb with boring, prosaic neighbors, why not join an elite group of young and successful professionals, like-minded and sophisticated, with immaculate taste and superb social connections? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to join the elite upper echelons of society? This is the scenario that J.G. Ballard creates, and then proceeds to plunge the reader into a nightmare of barbarity, roving bands of marauding residents, festering piles of garbage and refuse, and a total collapse of social order and morals.

It is a deliciously dark fable, one that was spot-on back in 1975, and that remains incredibly relevant today. There are no science-fiction elements to this novel, but it feels as futuristic as the day after tomorrow, and its commentary on the untamed urges that lurk beneath the surface of otherwise civilized, urbane people is a twisted masterpiece of modern social commentary, and one of my favorite J.G. Ballard novels from the 1970s.

The collapse of civilization has been done many times before in modern literature. Perhaps the most famous early example is William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies (1954), and who could forget Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) and its brilliant film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick (1971). In the film realm, the MAD MAX films have captured filmgoers’ imaginations for several decades, most recently in this year’s reboot Mad Max: Fury Road directed by George Miller. Everyone knows that the minute our energy resources disappear, and our global distribution chains collapse, it will be every person for themselves. If you are faced with death or starvation, the rules of society suddenly seem fairly ephemeral. Looting, roving gangs, rape and pillage, these are all familiar tropes of the post-disaster novel and film.

What distinguishes J.G. Ballard’s brilliant 1975 novel High-Rise is that society has not collapsed, oil has not dried up, meteors have not pummeled the planet, sea levels have not risen due to global warming. Neither has a mysterious virus escaped and turned people into zombies, or space aliens descended from space to be fought off by Will Smith or the Avengers. Instead, we simply have a luxury high-rise filled with urbane professionals who seek refuge away from the hoi-polloi, the unwashed masses, the gauche proletariat who cannot appreciate sophisticated meals and fine wines. And Ballard gleefully throws all these elites into a massive luxury high-rise block and lets them create their own private hell on earth.

The main character is Robert Laing, a young doctor who moves into the 25th floor of the high-rise. He plays squash occasionally with the chief architect of the building, the visionary Anthony Royal. Initially he is drawn to the wide range of yuppie-types that occupy the building, the attractive men and women who join the endless round of parties in the building, idling seeking out affairs. But then small, inconsequential disputes arise among tenants, and like any story of suburban rivalries, groups begin to form. However, the high-rise is an explicit metaphor for the stratification of social classes, as the book describes in meticulous and chilling detail:

A new social type was being created by the apartment building – a cool, unemotional personality, impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life. With minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his overpriced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbors to make a mistake.

These people were content with their environment, and felt no particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and organizations, and if anything welcoming these intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new kind of 20th century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed. Alternatively, their real needs might emerge later.

The more arid and affectless life became in the high-rise, the greater the possibilities it offered. By its very efficiency, the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time, it removed the need to suppress every kind of anti-social behavior and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses. It was precisely in these areas where the most important and interesting aspects of their lives would take place. Secure within the shell of the high-rise, like passengers on board an automatically-piloted airliner, they were free to behave in any way they wished, explore the darkest corners they could find. In many ways, the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly free psychopathology.

J.G. Ballard’s deconstruction of the modern, urban professional is amazing – this doesn’t sound like 1975, it sounds like 2015. “That disaffected personality that revels in the rapid turnover of acquaintances and lack of involvement with others” is a perfect description of hundreds of people I have met in the finance industry in Tokyo over the last decade. With their self-contained ex-pat social circles, high incomes, and frequent moves from one country to the next, they can continually insulate themselves in the elite spaces of their daily existences, without having to mingle with anyone outside their spheres. And with the fine foods, luxury apartments, intelligent repartee, and vacations around the world, why would you seek anything else? In the following passages, Ballard describes the new stratified society of the high-rise in detail:

What angered Wilder most of all about life in the apartment building was the way in which an apparently homogeneous group of high-income professional people had split into three distinct, hostile camps. The old subdivisions based on power, capital, and self-interest, had reasserted themselves here as anywhere else. In effect, the high-rise had already divided itself into the three classical social groups, the lower, middle, and upper classes.

The lower floors housed the proletariat of film technicians, air hostesses and the like, and the middle section formed its middle class, made up of self-centered but basically docile members of the professions, the doctors and lawyers, accountants and tax specialists, who worked not for themselves, but for medical institutions and large corporations. Puritan and self-disciplined, they had all the cohesion of those eager to settle for second-best.

Above them was the upper class, the discrete oligarchy of minor tycoons and entrepreneurs, televisions actresses and careerist academics. It was they who set the pace of the building, their complaints which were acted upon first, and it was they who subtly dominated high-rise life. Above all, it was their subtle patronage that kept the middle ranks in line, this constantly dangling carrot of friendship and approval.

What a brutally honest and clinical deconstruction of the petty pretentions of our modern bourgeoisie. And the particular genius of Ballard’s urban fable is that all the residents of the building choose to segregate themselves without any prompting from the outside. As conditions steadily worsen, nobody seeks to contact the police or external authorities. Instead, they seem to revel in the new breakdown in civilized veneer, deliberately degenerating into barbaric behavior to fulfill their suppressed obsessions.

Many of the cars had not been moved for weeks, windscreens broken by falling bottles, cabins filled with garbage, they sat on flattening tires, surrounded by a sea of rubbish that spread outwards from the building like an enlarging stain. This visible index of the blocks’ decline at the same time measured the extent to which its tenants accepted this process of erosion. At times, Royal suspected that his neighbors unconsciously hoped that things would decline even further. Royal had noticed that the manager’s office was no longer beseiged by indignant residents. Even his top-floor neighbors, who initially had been only too quick to complain, now never criticized anything about the building.

Reluctantly, he knew that he despised his fellow residents for the way in which they fit so willingly into their appointed slots in the apartment buildings, for their overdeveloped sense of responsibility and lack of flamboyance. Above all, he looked down on them for their good taste. The building was a monument to good taste, to the well-designed kitchen, to sophisticated utencils and fabrics, to elegant and never ostentatious furnishings. In short, to that whole aesthetic sensibility which these well-educated, professional people had inherited from all the schools of industrial design, all the award-winning schemes of interior decoration institutionalized by the last quarter of the century.

Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbors’ apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee pot, but the well-modulated color schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design. In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future, boxed up in these expensive apartments with their elegant furniture, and intelligent sensibilities, and no possibility of escape.

Ballard doesn’t hold back in his withering contempt for the empty aspirations of the elite class. I couldn’t help thinking of how much our modern society idolizes a beautifully-designed modern space with sophisticated decorations, but is less concerned with the spiritual health of the occupants of the house. Speaking only for the Tokyo social elite (though I’m sure the principal is universal), I often feel that people have subsumed their spiritual lives for the sake of external environments, and that modern urbanite identities are largely defined by their jobs, apartments, favorite restaurants, brand-name clothes, and carefully-groomed appearances.

As for the story, the final parts are devoted to showing us exactly how far these sophisticates can degenerate into barbarity, entirely of their own volition. It may not seem plausible, but this story is a metaphor of excess, and works very well in that way. Here we see the logical extremes to which the residents could reach in the absence of any inhibitions on behavior.

For all the building’s derelict state – almost no water was flowing, the air-conditioning vents were blocked with garbage and excrement, rails ripped off staircase balustrades – the behavior of the residents during the daylight hours remained relatively restrained. Wilder stopped and relieved himself against the steps. During the brawls and running battles of the night, he took a distinct and unguilty pleasure in urinating wherever he cared, defecating in abandoned apartments. The previous night he had enjoyed pushing around a terrified woman who remonstrated him for relieving himself on her bathroom floor. Nonetheless, Wilder welcomed and understood the night – only in the darkness could one become sufficiently obsessive, deliberately play on all one’s repressed instincts. He welcomed this forced conscription of the deviant strains of his character. Happily, this free and degenerate behavior became easier as he moved higher up the building, as if encouraged by the secret logic of the high-rise.

So there you have it, a polemic and warning disguised as a slim thriller. I thought it was brilliant and highly recommend it, but it depends on your temperament. Of note, a film version was released at several film festivals this year, starring Tom Hiddleston (who expertly narrated the audiobook) and Jeremy Irons, directed by British directly Ben Wheatley. It may have taken 40 years to make it to film, but I doubt they needed to update the story much at all. I am very much looking forward to seeing Ballard’s dark vision on the big screen.

Finally, as an aside, my family and I live in Tokyo, and the vast majority of people here live in condos and apartments of varying size. When we began to entertain the idea of buying a place instead of renting, we visited dozens of properties in different neighborhoods, each with their own magic pricing formulas that factored in proximity to major train lines, average income levels, neighborhood infrastructure (schools, hospitals, etc), age of building and reputability of the builder, earthquake-proofing, direction of windows (south-facing is most desirable for sunlight and hanging laundry), corner rooms, higher floors, room layout, homeowners’ associations, number of units, etc. After months of research, the amount of info was overwhelming, and co-workers and friends gave us reams of advice on every possible pro and con. It was endless and exhausting.

So one day I suggested we look at detached houses instead, which are harder to come by in ultra-densely populated Tokyo. And yet the thought of being packed into a massive building with over 1,000 other residents, making greetings to a steady stream of people you barely know, being forced to joined the owner’s associations and arguing over the timing of repairs, complaints about noise, trash disposal, parking lots, air-conditions, just made us want to run screaming. So we opted to buy a small, narrow 3-story house with neighbors so near that we can reach out a window on either side and touch their houses. But it is our space, not shared with anyone, and that was the deciding factor. After reading Ballard’s High-Rise, I feel like we made the right choice.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,874 followers
June 11, 2012
I haven't read much Ballard so I don't feel like I've read this book by him before. Apparently, this is a kind of common theme with him. Affluent people turning savage in the modern world.

Any book that promises rich people acting all Lord of the Flies on one another is going to catch my interest. And this one caught my attention and was pretty successful at holding it.

The book takes place in a 1960's/70's version of a state of the art high rise apartment complex. It's an almost totally self-contained little world. Sort of like a shopping mall you live in with a couple of thousand other people. What start off as petty grievances and some minor social faux-pas turn into territorial and tribal warfare. The residents without kids hate having kids in their swimming pools. The residents with kids resent being told that their kids can't go certain places. The well-to-do but more blue-collar types on the lower floors are looked down upon by the more well to do on the higher floors. A neighbor doesn't like the way another neighbor puts their trash into the garbage chute. Someone plays music too loud, another person has parties that go on too early. The rich people get to park in better spots in the parking lot. Etc., etc. People who live close to one another begin to form strong in-group / out-group bonds with one another. The people from a middle group of floors are disgusted by the perversity of the people who live above them. Elevators and territories need to be protected. What starts off as resentment soon escalates to physical intimidation, that leads to people getting beat-up and things dying and then a full scale barbaric war for territory and women.

As 'good manners' deteriorate so is the condition of the building they are living in. Things break. The residents start using the whole building as a garbage dump and toilet. The people live covered in their filth, they are starving. But they don't leave. They continue on in their fight for control over small bits of the building and raging against the otherness of everyone else.

Or basically, it's a lot of fun to be had.

Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
413 reviews116 followers
October 30, 2018
Η αρχή της (ακατανόητης) βίας

Σ’ έναν ουρανοξύστη, όχι μακριά από το Λονδίνο, οι πολυπληθείς ένοικοί του εξεγείρονται. Ξεσπούν στο ίδιο το κτίριο που τους περιβάλλει, μετατρέποντάς το σταδιακά σ’ αυτό που πράγματι ήταν από κατασκευής του (αλλά αρνούνταν να δουν): έναν αχανή ζωολογικό κήπο, με κάθε λογής θηρία, εγκλωβισμένα στα εκατοντάδες κλουβιά του που ατενίζουν τον κόσμο με διάταξη κάθετη. Ανθρώπινες υπάρξεις, παραδομένες στα πιο ταπεινά τους ένστικτα, μετατρέπουν την καθημερινή τους συμβίωση σε ένα παιχνίδι αιματηρής επικράτησης, χωρίς κανόνες, αρχές και όρια.

Σαν ιδέα, αν και όχι ακριβώς πρωτότυπη [αν αφαιρέσει κανείς το αστικό περιβάλλον και την ενηλικότητα των ηρώων, πίσω από την επέλαση της αρχέγονης βίας θα διακρίνει τον Άρχοντα των Μυγών], οπωσδήποτε έξυπνη. Το πολυώροφο οικοδόμημα της ιστορίας του J.G. Ballard βαθμιαία και κλιμακωτά θυμίζει τον Πύργο της Κολάσεως, μόνο που εν προκειμένω πηγή του κακού δεν είναι άλλη από τον βίαιο ψυχισμό των καθωσπρέπει μεγαλοαστών που εγκαταβιώνουν στα σπλάχνα του. Πανεπιστημιακοί ιατροί, διαπρεπείς σκηνοθέτες, επιτυχημένοι επιχειρηματίες, εν ολίγοις όλο το jet set της αγγλικής κοινωνίας παραδομένο σ’ έναν ιστό αδικαιολόγητης βίας που απειλεί να συνθλίψει τους ίδιους τους υφαντές του.

Καθώς μια ωραία ιδέα δεν είναι πάντοτε βέβαιο ότι θα αποτυπωθεί το ίδιο εξαιρετικά στο χαρτί, ακόμη κι αν μιλάμε για σπουδαίους συγγραφείς όπως ο J.G. Ballard, το High-Rise υπήρξε κατά τη γνώμη μου μια μνημειώδης αποτυχία. Άνευρο και ανούσιο, γραμμένο, θαρρώ αποκλειστικά, για να προκαλέσει, προξενεί τόση βαρεμάρα στον αναγνώστη του, που αναρωτιέσαι πως, δεν μπορεί, κάποιος αναριθμητισμός πρέπει να υπάρχει στις σελίδες του βιβλίου, αδύνατον να είναι μόλις διακόσιες πενήντα πέντε!

Ανέμπνευστες περιγραφές πράξεων βίας που μοιάζουν διαρκώς να επαναλαμβάνονται, ανεπαρκής επεξήγηση των συνθηκών που οδήγησαν (ή συνέτειναν) στην επικράτηση της ανομίας και του χάους στον ουρανοξύστη, και παντελής ανυπαρξία οποιουδήποτε συμβολισμού σε όσα ζοφερά διαδραματίζονται στους σαράντα ορόφους του επιβλητικού οικοδομήματος της ιστορίας. Όσο για την πρόκληση; Με όρους 2018 απολύτως καμία [ο αντίλογος είναι προφανής, η ιστορία γράφτηκε σαράντα και πλέον χρόνια πριν, όταν ακόμη υπήρχαν πράγματα που μπορούσαν να μας εκπλήξουν].
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,184 followers
April 10, 2017
4 and a half stars.

If you took "The Lord of the Flies" and "A Clockwork Orange" and threw them together in a blender, you would get a book that would be a lot like "High-Rise": creepy, over the top, disturbingly plausible in some ways, really infuriating in others. Basically, you'd get something weirdly fascinating, which will understandably not be everyone's cup of tea. I suppose I like my tea dystopian and gross, because I loved it!

I'm pretty sure that no one ever accused J.G. Ballard of being subtle. "High-Rise" is about the idea that under our thin veneer of civilization, we are still savage animals, driven by our sex and death urges, and that we will happily exploit and kill people in order to climb to the top of the food chain. This is obviously not a new idea, but Ballard's incredible prose makes his exploration of that idea both delightful and horrifying.

A man named Anthony Royal designed the perfect high-rise apartment complex: five buildings built near each other, in a semi-circle around a plaza and parking lot. Each building is meant to be its own little self-contained universe: you never really need to get out when your grocery store, gym, hair salon and heaven knows what are all under the same roof! If you want entertainment, all you need to do is wander the corridors for a few minutes and you are sure to happen upon a huge floor-wide party sooner or later. And all this perfectly packaged life comes topped with a lovely bow of relative anonymity, which you can only get in such a huge apartment complex. The social strata are confined to different floors: the working class who can afford to live in such a state-of-the-art place have the lower floors, then the white collars have the middle section, the top floors being reserved for the millionaires and movie stars - while the mastermind behind the whole structure gets the penthouse.

Dr. Robert Laing moves into the first high-rise of that complex to be finished and operational. Everything is great for a while, but he can't shake the feeling that something is not quite right, that the building brings out the pettiest impulses out of people. Richard Wilder, a documentary film-maker living on the lower floor with his wife Helen, also feels like the high-rise affects its tenants in a bizarre way. Most tenants feel an irresistible impulse to climb towards the top of the building, to the more desirable floors; he feels crushed and oppressed by the huge weight of the enormous structure hovering over him day and night and he convinces himself that an ultimate confrontation with Royal is the only thing that will make him feel liberated from the upper floors' yoke.

I can't imagine that given his personal history and what he went through in his formative years, Ballard had a shred of optimism about the human race left in him, and it shows in his work. His social critique is completely ruthless, and still relevant forty years after the original publication date. The yuppies' behavior in this book, their disinterest in other people as anything else than a source of amusement or advancement has not evolved one bit since the 70's. He describes people filming the acts of violence instead of intervening to keep things under control; that gave me an unpleasant shiver, in this day and age of smart-phone camera addiction...

Of course, it is unrealistic to think that a complete social collapse would remain localized indefinitely in a huge apartment building, but realism is not the point of this story: the high-rise is an extreme metaphor for a world without rules, and of how easy it is to slip into chaos when you know you can get away with whatever it is you feel like doing. These people own the building, they can do what they damn well please to it and their fellow tenants. They won't leave because it is theirs to destroy or defend and this tribal devolution makes a weird kind of sense.

This is my first Ballard novel, but it certainly won't be the last! Highly recommended if you like dark and creepy stories.

I also watched the movie, and it is a stylish and disturbing flick: some elements of the story were dropped and some were changed, so it might feel disjointed for those who haven't read the book, but the use of slow-motion and the juxtaposition of really depraved scenes and dramatic classical music captures something of Ballard's surreal universe. Also, bonus points for naked Tom Hiddleston (don't judge me).
Profile Image for Ruby  Tombstone Lives!.
338 reviews410 followers
August 28, 2013
Alternative title: "THIS is why we can't have nice things"

Okay, having collected my thoughts, here are the points I think worth mentioning.

*I loved the book. Just fucking LOVED the book. As in, "I will read everything this author ever wrote" loved the book. My first impression was that this is Lord of the Flies for adults. I enjoyed this a lot more than I did Golding's book.

From here on out, the whole thing is pretty much one big spoiler. So if you haven't read the book, you'll need to go do that now. I'll wait.

"Let the psychotics take over. They alone understood what was happening."
Words to live by.
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