Book Review – High Rise

by J.G Ballard
Started: 14th September 2015
Finished: 22nd September 2015

I wanted to read this novel before the film comes out next year, I try not to do this too often as otherwise I wouldn’t be able to watch a lot of things! But when I’m really interested in a premise and I just have to know what’s going to happen then I just can’t resist. Which is what happened with Ballard’s High Rise

High Rise focuses on the lives of three central figures in a high rise apartment building which has everything they could ever need, which gradually reduces the need to leave the building at all. The novel follows the lives of three men who are very different from each other and react to living in the high rise in different ways, well, especially when everything starts to delve into chaos. The once orderly and safe place becomes a place of violence and conflict and everyone has to find their place in this new world. 

I really liked the characters of this novel, well, I use the word ‘liked’ loosely. Perhaps it would be better to say I enjoyed the characters, their personalities and their interactions even if I didn’t particularly like, or agree with, what they were doing. Out of all of them the increasingly unstable Wilder was the most interesting to me, purely because I never knew what he was really doing. Laing seemed somewhat tame in comparison, although the way his story ended really highlighted his slightly hidden dark side. It took me a while to find something interesting about Royal, compared to the others it doesn’t seem like a huge amount happens with him aside from a couple of certain events. The female characters in this novel seemed just as, sometimes even more so, unstable than the male characters. However I found it interesting that as a common ground nearly all the characters had to be around other characters in order to feel safe or to try and make sense of things. 

I was expecting something slightly more structured in terms of plot but with the story of the novel that just wouldn’t have worked. I like that everything seems fairly unclear and it focuses on the day to day lives of these people as the high rise becomes an increasingly worse place to live. With conflicts starting between all sorts of types of people (like dog owners vs non dog owners, parents vs dog owners vs childless couples, upper levels vs lower levels etc) and everyone gradually going back to their more base instincts and neglecting things such as hygiene it made the day to day lives of these people feel much more than that. The deterioration of life in the high rise happens so suddenly that it is well explored through the small amount of pages. Out of everything that happened I was fascinated by Wilder and his documentary, which appeared to be the source, or at least the tipping point, of many conflicts between the residents. 

I loved Ballard’s writing, it’s been a while since sentences made me grimace because of the grotesque nature of them or the images they produce. I also liked how it would swap between characters after a couple of chapters, it was enough time for you to really see what someone is doing and didn’t drag on. This was especially good as sometimes I found my concentration waning but once the perspective changed it came straight back. It also gave the novel good pacing and allowed you to see the chaos across the whole building. 

Although I found it a little slow at times, it didn’t stay this way for very long and I loved how Ballard explored the theme. I will definitely be reading more of his novels in the future. 

Rating: 4/5

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