Review | High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

I’m looking forward to seeing the film now. How the heck did they adapt this?  3.5 stars.

High-Rise by JG Ballard book cover

The blurb: 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.

My take:

Well. That was weird.

I’ve been trying to trace the source of the deep sense of unease you get while reading High-Rise. Yes, most of the characters are insane, but I don’t think it’s that. I believe the pervading sense of odd comes from the disconnect between the third-person narrator’s incredibly detached, colourless tone and the bloody, grimy events described. However, we should be grateful for this narrative distance, because otherwise I think this book would be too disturbing to get through. What’s more, the tone becomes almost hypnotic, pulling you through a reading experience which becomes something like driving past a traffic accident: you don’t want to look, but you feel compelled to turn your head in the direction of the flashing lights.

I think this book has to be approached less as sci-fi/dystopia and more as an adult, fabular version of Lord of the Flies. Don’t go in looking for realism. As I’ve seen other reviewers comment, if the events of the High-Rise were to happen in real life, people would just move out of the building. Particularly residents with children. Sure, a few psychos would stay behind, but the majority would run for the hills.

It certainly contains lots of interesting ideas, most of which brought be back (once again) to Lord of the Flies: namely how thin the veneer of civilisation is and how quickly it can break down under pressure.

The story is told from the close third-person viewpoints of three different male residents of the high rise. I did wonder why we don’t get a female point of view, just for contrast. But, then again, given events later in the book (I’m trying really hard to avoid spoilers), perhaps the author is driving home a point by not giving us a female insight on events?

Finally, if you’re a dog lover and can’t bear reading of any harm whatsoever coming to them, avoid this book! I would argue the dogs in the building give as good as they get though…

Overall: I can’t say this is an “enjoyable” read. It’s more a creepy, uncomfortable experience. And if that’s your thing, I highly recommend it!

Claire Huston / Art and Soul


30 thoughts on “Review | High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

  1. Claire, That sounds kind of psychologically weird. It reminds me of some of the strange stories I overheard about high rise characters living in Abu Dhabi and in Florida. When you arrange a diverse group of people, anything is bound to happen. It sounds like an interesting premise for a story and told from a unique 3rd person point of view. I might check this one out…if I can find it at the local Florida library.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Getting it from the library is a great idea. That way if you don’t like it, you can always abandon it and not feel bad for wasting money (it’s what I do when I’m not entirely convinced I’m going to enjoy a book!).
      It’s almost as if he took the idea of “normal” disputes which happen between neighbours (about noise-levels and that sort of thing) and took it all to the extreme. It’s certainly interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like the sound of the book…it seems like an interesting premise. I researched the book and the author and someone reviewed it as an “unappreciated masterpiece.” It sounds like good escapism. Although in South Florida, I have heard some bizarre stories of fighting within condos. Makes one wonder.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Though I haven’t watched the movie, I was checking out the cast list, and just that suggests all the changes that were made to bring it to big screen. Honestly, I remember finishing that book and thinking I needed a good shower. It is a surrealist novel for sure, because any of those events grounded in reality would require a good level of psychosis for sure!
    Fantastic review as always! Just spot on 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh I worked as a continuity extra on High-Rise! 😀 I have to say I haven’t read the book, but from what I saw while shooting the film (I was there for 7 weeks AND watched the premier) I can tell you this story is not for the faint-hearted!
    But Tom Hiddlestone and Luke Evans are the nicest people on the planet, so they kind of make up for all the “terrible-ness” on screen 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 3rd August 2016 | Art and Soul

  5. I really liked this book. There is a certain brilliance to the writing and the message is so applicable to the present even though it was written ~40 years ago. Yes, weird though. Seeing the movie afterwards put the weirdness onto a whole other level!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. >if the events of the High-Rise were to happen in real life, people would just move out of the building
    Did you consider that it could all be metaphorical?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did. If the High Rise is symbolic of society itself, obviously it’s difficult for people to exit society entirely. If we’re to see it as a country or state, then people fleeing the building would continue to have considerable contemporary relevance (sadly).
      A mind-bending book which would benefit from repeat reading in an attempt to appreciate its depths.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s