Tuesday, November 22, 2005

45. High Rise by J.G. Ballard

High Rise book pictureI must deliver a mixed report on High Rise. First, it's a great book. I strongly recommend that you read it if you haven't already. It's a dark and complex exploration into the deterioration of bourgeois civilization, in the form of a giant self-sufficient high-rise for upper middle and middle class professionals. Hierarchical social groups begin to devolve into warring clans. I don't know if he's critiquing western bourgeois society or mankind in general, but Ballard's prognosis is dark. Quite quickly, men are ganging up on the weak, killing their dogs, barricading hallways, marking their territory with urine. The women become status property, something to protect, or form matriarchal gangs of their own. He really takes the idea to the limit and the last few chapters are delicious in their excess.

However, in the context of Ballard's other work, there is not a lot that is original in High Rise. That's why I'm giving it the mixed review. He pulls out so many elements, especially from his first four post-apocalyptic novels, that I felt for a lot of the book that I was going over the same ground. The mysterious patriarch is in both The Drought and The Wind From Nowhere. There are many other examples, and probably the differences in how he presents these themes and iconic characters would be worth analysis. It's just that I felt I'd been treading over the same ground and that Ballard hadn't taken things much farther.

However, the ending redeemed a lot of my concerns, First, it was wildly entertaining (Wilder, has business suit reduced to cutoffs, fly open to expose his genitals, body covered in tribal lipstick patterns, fighting his way to the penthouse apartment from the first floor). Second, though he didn't really push his theme farther, he committed himself to it. He made it pretty clear that this is where he believes our consumerized and sheltered society will end up.

Read it.

1 comment:

Jason L said...

Good analysis. Read as pure entertainment apart from his previous novels, I think the book succeeds. My thinking at the time I read it was that it may have been a novel quickly dashed off in anger (fear?).

The mid-seventies were a time of increasing turmoil over oil, environmentalism, nuclear war, etc. We've become inured to it today but imagine seeing your first ever high-rise in the midst of a giant parking lot. I think I'd be concerned for society as well.