Book - 1975
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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.
Publisher: London : J. Cape, 1975.
Branch Call Number: FICTION
Characteristics: 204 p. ;,21 cm.


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High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s vertical zoo

I have to confess that the only reason I picked up J. G. Ballard's 1975 novel of inevitable social decline in a well-to-do apartment block was because I'd read an article about the movie version due out later this year starring Tom Hiddleston. I'd watch Tom Hiddleston in anything, so I figured I'd read the book before the movie comes out. And in my own mind I think I was already imagining an… (more)

From Library Staff

takeclare Mar 30, 2020

J.G. Ballard explores the disintegration of social structures in High-Rise, as over a few months the inhabitants of a 40-storey tower block withdraw from the outside world and begin a slow descent to a state of primal savagery. Concepts that Ballard investigated in many of his novels are present ... Read More »

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Mar 12, 2020

Quite frankly, that was one of the strangest books I've ever had the pleasure to read. The story was completely unsettling, and it was beautifully written. Seldom have I come across such rare talent for story telling. Weird as heck, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am very pleased that I came across this book, and I'm looking forward to reading more from Mr. Ballard's literary collection.

Jun 10, 2019

Written in 1975, the book is absolutely visionary in correctly predicting and describing the insane over-construction spurred by an overpopulated world and the greed of developers. Just take a look at the horrible towers going up in Edmonton, destroying everything around them.

I'll repeat a quote from the book I had placed here three years ago: "All the evidence accumulated over several decades cast a critical light on the high-rise as a viable social structure, but cost-effectiveness in the area of public housing and high profitability in the private sector kept pushing these vertical townships into the sky against the real needs of their occupants."

Nov 17, 2017

A dystopian novel on how civility can unravel with the loss of agency. The narrative is a bit stilted but with interesting characterizations. Worth reading if you are interested.

Aug 22, 2017

“Laing knew that he was far happier now than ever before, despite all the hazards of his life, the likelihood that he would die any time from hunger or assault. He was satisfied by his self-reliance, his ability to cope with the tasks of survival – foraging, keeping his wits about him, guarding his two women from any marauder who might want to use them for similar purposes.”
There is so much substance packed into this 207-page book.
The entire story takes place inside a 40-story luxury high-rise that houses about 2,000 people – an ostensibly homogeneous group of high-income individuals. But as tensions begin to arise between the wealthy dog owners on the top floors and the families on the bottom floors, the residents of the high-rise divide into three groups, driven by power and self-interest. The hostilities gradually increase as they assimilate into their self-imposed hierarchies within the building and devolve into chaos and anarchy.
Ballard cleverly positions the high-rise as both a literal structure and a social structure. But as the characters devolve into a Hobbesian state of nature, the most disturbing thing of all is that they admit to feeling happier. Finally able to exercise their most devious impulses, they slowly reveal more genuine versions of themselves.
Clearly lots of fascinating themes to unpack here – and no surprise coming from J.G. Ballard. Like a Lord of the Flies for adults, this was a dark and twisted read.

Dec 09, 2016

This is the opening line of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel "High-Rise": "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."
Though he was work was often mistakenly classified as sci-fi, the English writer J.G. Ballard, who grew up in Shanghai, was very much concerned about the present, especially the ways in which technology and the supposed advances in modern society (cars, cities, luxuries) impacted individuals. In "HIgh-Rise," the residents of an ultra-modern apartment building turn feral and start attacking each other, representing a larger breakdown of the social order. It forms a sort of trilogy with "Crash" and "Concrete Island." Enormously influential, but chronically underappreciated, no one has taken his place since his death in 2009. Made into an ambitious, but flawed film starring Tom "Loki" HIddleston.

Jun 05, 2016

Ballard made me into one of the residents of this tower. As I read, I kept thinking "Surely that's as bad as it'll get. Surely something will have to change now." Some of the people who live in the building think the same. Some, but not all.

Jul 15, 2015

I read this book amidst a high-rise building boom in Seattle. The landscape is saturated with cranes and the downtown streets are becoming more and more cavernous as the complexes grow higher and higher around us. I didn't really know anything about this novel before I started it, and I was astonished to learn after I finished that it was written 40 years ago. The themes of social and human deterioration through stratification, structure, and artificiality are perhaps even more urgent today.

I have no issues with the fact that the "war" that erupts inside the building is unrealistic. The book is absurdist (and deeply dark) satire and realism is not a yardstick with which to measure it. I also don't have an issue with the fact that no "reason" - no triggering event - is given for the breakdown in the high-rise society. In fact, the impact of the book would be significantly lessened if there were an external catalyst or worldwide cataclysm at the center of it. The perverse beauty of the book's conceit is that the capacity for the collapse is within the participants all along - Ballard demonstrates that all that is needed to tip humanity into savagery is a gentle push in our living environment away from nature.

The world of the high-rise is meant to be self-contained - it is designed to take care of its residents' needs completely. This seemingly benign, even desirable, characteristic is enough to paradoxically kill the last shreds of civilization. In this way, High-Rise is the opposite of Lord of the Flies - the book it is most often compared to - in that it is a hyper-civilization that results in de-evolution and not a return to the jungle.

The issue I do have with the book is that is stretches its point out far too long. There is no "plot," so to speak - no central mystery or puzzle to solve (as in Ballard's [title: Kingdom Come], for example), no goal for the characters to attain. The rapid breakdown of civility and the establishment of (and subsequent failure) of a clan system forms the entire story. The breakdown begins almost immediately and the subsequent disintegrations are all just variations on each other, so the book quickly becomes repetitive. Each successive step toward the end is just a more slightly more terrible iteration of the step before it. It could be that the strong central premise just isn't rich enough to fill a novel.

Dec 28, 2013

Like all of his work, you enter an altered reality. Which I very much like. It was written before the advent of the Internet yet is quite prescient regarding our dependence on custodial oversight by gizmos- which can fail. Keep that in mind before you transfer your consciousness to a robot. The singularity is not the corporate sponsored utopia you've been led to believe it is. Awaken!!


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Aug 29, 2016

All the evidence accumulated over several decades cast a critical light on the high-rise as a viable social structure, but cost-effectiveness in the area of public housing and high profitability in the private sector kept pushing these vertical townships into the sky against the real needs of their occupants.

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