Thursday, June 09, 2005

Book Review: High Rise by J G Ballard

Ballard in this little book of his explores a contained world. That of a 40 storey tower block. It’s a mediation on the effects self-contained living can have on individuals and the embryonic society they create. This is a society though, like that of the normal world. The same stratifications of class come into play. The bottom, middle and top floors all mimicking the class system that is in place on the outside.

This tower block is unlike those we are familiar with. It is not a tower block of the urban slums of inner city England, where poverty and crime are the usual associations. This world is one of relative affluence; TV Execs, Doctors, Newsreaders, who enlist for this new and exotic living arrangement. Needless to say it’s architect has miscalculated. Things go very wrong. Class replicates itself wherever. Tribal battles take place; men adorn themselves with blood. There are raids on each others sections of the Tower, people become zombiefied, stupefied. They grow to rely on the high rise. They fear leaving it, by the end they cannot. Irony; a perfect living place is created, to foster a happy, new and modern society. In the end it turns primal, man reverting to a earlier, more savage time.

There is little to say of the charaters, they arn't that important, and as such are not developed. It's the Tower itself that is developed, it's floors, amenities and make up. Allowing the reader to visualise it in detail.

The book has flaws. Things start to unravel too quickly, rather than simmering away, before a gradual collapse of order. As a short novel, Ballard hasn't time to allow things to unfold at a slower pace and develop characters, so maybe a longer novel would have helped create greater tension. The reader - although knowing - having to to wait longer for the inevitable.

It is a novel that can be read as a forewarning to the problems of high-rise living, and urban planners who thought it was a good way to live, up in the Sky. Living in confinement, affluence incidental. Prophetic maybe, with the currrent repudiation of the high rise ideal, and the razing of tower blocks in inner cities.

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