The ‘Burbs Aren’t Looking so Bad


Title: High-Rise

Rating: 3 Stars

This is my second attempt at reading J.G. Ballard. The first was The Drowned World, one of his acknowledged classics. I didn’t regret reading it, it just didn’t do anything for me (hence, it ended up with 2 star review). It just read flat to me.

I enjoyed High-Rise, although it still seemed to be lacking to me. I think it has to do with the fact that the main characters seem to serve as part of the theme of the work instead of actually being fully three dimensional characters of their own.

There is a 1,000 apartment high-rise that has just achieved maximum capacity. Almost immediately, it begins to descend into disorder. Loud parties are held, music is blared, bottles are flung off balconies.

As a social unit, the high-rise disintegrates in an almost perfect description of de-evolution. The apartments first of all split into three groups. The top floors are the upper class (of course!), the middle floors are the middle class, and you get the idea. These are all professional people, so even in the lower class there are airline pilots and the like. The upper floors and lower floors try to get the middle floors to join them, to no great success.

Eventually this structure breaks down into tribes of contiguous apartments. As all of this happens, the high-rise infrastructure itself disintegrates. Elevators stop working, garbage chutes are clogged, and water / electricity become intermittent.

Ultimately, even this order breaks down into essentially individuals fighting and struggling to stay alive.

The main characters never seriously consider leaving the high-rise. This is their world and it is their battle to survive in it.

This was written in the mid 1970’s. I don’t know if they were consciously inspired by it, but both Wool and Snowpiercer would seem to owe something to High-Rise.

The bottom line to me is that it was an interesting idea well executed. However, when I’m reading fiction, I do like to read about characters that are, if not interesting, at least fully defined, so I can’t give this a personal high rating. With my grand total of two works read, perhaps this is just a style issue with Ballard.


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