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Book Review: High-Rise

October 18, 2017


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.


And with that plain, surreal opening statement, J. G. Ballard takes us into the titular high-rise, and its descent into anarchy.


I picked up this book at a secondhand bookshop, mostly because of Tom Hiddleston's image on the cover. (Those who know me know that I will do almost anything for that lovely human being.) Also, I had watched the film adaptation directed by Ben Wheatley and was utterly flummoxed. Now that I have read the book, I understand my initial confusion regarding the movie: there is no medium that can capture Ballard's peculiarly distant yet incisive narrative voice, that methodical approach towards madness, that atmosphere of vertiginous isolation.


The prose is almost prosaic. It isn't easy to find a line that leaps off the page with poetry or impact, yet it is impossible to not become more and more involved, even as a sense of claustrophobia closes in. Nothing of import happens beyond the confines of the building. There is no outside world. What few people who aren't resident that venture into the novel flit off, without being narrated in any detail. Readers become trapped, like the residents of the concrete high-rise. Like them, we are free to walk away, but Ballard keeps us engrossed in the doings of the different groups. 


The finale circles right back to the beginning, and Laing looks out to the neighboring block. Ballard's masterful stroke is the sense that everything that happened in this recount would happen again, in another place: the same descent into madness within the confines of an uncaring construct.


Look around us. Isn't it happening every single day?

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