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High-Rise (1975)

Author: • Sep 17th, 2006 •

Category: architecture, bibliography, urban decay, urban revolt

Ballardian: Crash

“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.”

From the opening scene of Laing tucking into his canine dinner — the spoils of urban warfare — to the final ascent of the high-rise, this is a brilliantly original work that has affected anarchists, surrealists and psychologists alike.

The quotes on the back of my 1993 Flamingo edition tell the story:

J.G. Ballard wants to argue that high-rise flats incite maniacal aggression and perversion in ordinary people. High-Rise is about a 40-storey apartment block, and how from innocent beginnings it reduces people to murder, incest and above all a passionate love for chaos … a gripping read, particularly if you like your thrills chilly, bloody and with claims to social relevance.”

Time Out

“Harsh and ingenious … High-Rise is an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers unsettlingly in the mind.”

Martin Amis, New Statesman

A modern fable — a commentary on the hideous possibilities of advanced technology and the rat-like nature of trapped human beings. The writing s cool, the observation exact, the idea bold and well-developed; everything seems to demand attention and analysis”.

Financial Times

Rick McGrath has onlined an in-depth dissection of the novel:

A night patrol creeps along a dark hallway past a barricade of desks; a flash of white birds leap into the air like a fluttering flag of surrender; a dog lies drowned in the middle of a community pool… welcome to High-Rise, J.G. Ballard’s deeply subversive study of a society in transformation.

J.G. Ballard has often told interviewers that his characters all seek a kind of highly personal psychic salvation, and that they will, if necessary, create their own self-defining mythologies and pursue them to their furthest logical ends, no matter how illogical it seems, or what the cost. In High-Rise, Ballard has created an isolated environment for the close study of the deconstruction of an ultra-modern apartment block into a new, devolved society based on the premise that you are what your cave is. Readers looking for obsessive, outlandish social mayhem will not be disappointed: High-Rise has 40 stories of shock corridor ahead.

The premise is fascinating: just after the last property in a 1,000-suite high-rise is occupied, the first little signs of social change begin to become public. A party is in progress. A wine bottle crashes and smashes all over a resident’s balcony. Soon crazed, drunken, mob-mentality parties are breaking out all over the building, and now we’re deeply into the action, led in shocked wonder as Ballard brilliantly describes the metamorphosis of group psychopathological desire into a new kind of urban social model.”

Rick McGrath. ‘Deconstructing High-Rise’.

• Filmography (coming soon)
• Artography (coming soon)


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  1. […] qu’il n’arrive pas la même mésaventure que les personnages de I.G.H. de J.G. […]

  2. […] island (a businessman is stranded on an abandoned section of land beneath a motorway overpass), High-rise (the micro-society within a penthouse apartment rapidly degenerates into chaos and warfare), The […]

  3. […] about, oddly enough, through a Doctor Who story which was based heavily on a the Ballard novel, High-Rise. (I recommend it, if you haven’t read it already.) From there I was guided to one of his short […]

  4. […] the designer, the planner, the hidden persuader, the controller as a kind of director of behaviour, standing on the top floor observing what he’s wrought down […]

  5. […] the ‘psycho spatial’ nature of ‘Ballardian space’ is best articulated by Concrete Island, High-Rise and Super-Cannes, which he has utilised to varying degrees as the cornerstones of several BDLGBLOG […]

  6. I like the change of pace here with the multiple viewpoint narrative, although it would have been more interesting from a first person multiple. This is one where a film would improve the reading, although it is still a strong novel.

  7. […] Mark endorses J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. […]

  8. […] http://www.ballardian.com/biblio-high-rise […]

  9. […] Super Cannes – his companion piece to Cocaine Nights – while just last week I picked up High Rise again, after reading my brother’s university essay on the book. The charge and drive with […]

  10. […] a bit too much hotknifing for anyone’s comfort:  a very Ballardian political party, like High-Rise.  But they’re not like that […]

  11. […] a job “on the ground”, but this Torre de David most certainly recalls the fantastic High Rise described by James Graham Ballard in his novel. Where Ballard seems to be off (and so is Robert […]

  12. […] desire to seek out new spaces, to ‘colonise the sky’, as the inimitable JG Ballard wrote in his dark satire of vertical living. Skyscrapers are a symbol of a society that is booming, striving, tumescing: a Freudian burst of […]

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