Book Review: ‘High Rise’ by J G Ballard

High Rise

Title: High Rise

Author: J G Ballard

Publisher: (my copy) Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (imprint of Harper Collins)

Publication date: Originally 1975 but my edition is 2014 and very shiny

Paperback: 176 pages

Why did I chose to read this book? Tom Hiddleston was tooted as the lead character in the film adaptation anything that he would sign up to had to be good so I bought a copy from the stunning Daunt Books Bookshop

Where to read this book? If you’ve got the pennies and you’re in London then The Aqua Shard bar would be ideal boasting 31 floors high and offering spectacular views (on a good day) over London enabling you to feel somewhat like one of the character’s that you’re about to meet.

Refreshments: If you managed to get up the Shard and it happens to be a morning it’s time to sample one of their delicious Shard Mimosa or if you’re at home try to mix yourself a fancy pants gin cocktail – what I’m trying to say is alcohol just a strong drink will suffice.


Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem. In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

The surprising opening paragraph sets the tone for the entire novella as it trips of the page with a rakish style and casual openness of one who knows there about to enlighten you on society’s basest instinct, “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.” And there you have it in a nutshell.

Within this high-rise prison we have various specific inmates ranging from successful and unsuccessful professional and media types, their pecking order reflected on how high up the apartment block they live.

The primary observer and the novel’s only surviving male, Dr Laing is at first appealing in his aloof nature, treading water by being clever, detached and rather lazy. His relationship with his sister has nuances of a sinister level as the descent of the building gathers pace. Laing choose his survival technique in a clever way with the creation of a new, isolated world which he can control and dominate and one in which he can separate himself from everyone else… he was satisfied by his self-reliance…

We then have Anthony Royal, “king” and architect of the High-Rise, he actually tries to leave the high-rise but doesn’t get further than the bedroom doorway. Ballard’s most ethereal character in the novel, a successful, self-made man who “always wanted his own zoo” he was ready but maybe not completely prepared for the experiment he was to unleash and is in the end the architect of his own demise.

At the bottom of the social ladder on the 2nd floor we have Wilder, the TV producer, who decides to film a documentary on the trials of life in a singular structure. As the social strata breaks in to gangs Wilder begins to feel the weight of the building upon him and as the escalating violence emerges, Wilder decides his fate is to ascend the building and dominate. The further he rises up the building the less he remembers the restraints of civilisation, including his wife and two young sons. Wilder’s actions are the most visceral, assaulting women and taking a delicious glee in doing so.

The most disturbing sector of the high-rise is the women. In the beginning they are either living as ignored wives or casual sex partners descending into a series of polygamy, incest and submissive accepting victims of violation. However, conversely by the time we reach the end of this vile journey a group of the women have occupied the top floors and have started refurbishing it for their own uses and are for want of a better term a family of cannibalistic women girl power indeed

Overall this is Darwin having a party with William Golding and Alex Garland to create an addictive and shocking novel – one of Ballard’s best and one which I can already picture Hiddleston as Dr Laing.

Rating: 9 out of 10


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