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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Brutalist environment?
"High Rise" begins with the observations of Robert Laing, a medical man and academic living in a select apartment block, who watches the community around him regress back to a hunter-gatherer culture. His name clearly alludes to the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who wondered in the 1950s and 60s if mental illness might be traced to family and community dysfunction,...
Published on 24 July 2012 by Christopher H

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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough look at the affect of modern urban development on society
“High-Rise” by J.G. Ballard is a dystopian novel written in the 1970s which details the collapse of society within a forty storey tower block. The plot follows three different people within the block who each live on different floors, one low, one in the middle and one in the penthouse. Each of these people represents a different level within the social...
Published 1 month ago by Killie


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Brutalist environment?, 24 July 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
"High Rise" begins with the observations of Robert Laing, a medical man and academic living in a select apartment block, who watches the community around him regress back to a hunter-gatherer culture. His name clearly alludes to the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who wondered in the 1950s and 60s if mental illness might be traced to family and community dysfunction, not necessarily to physically-based causes (see The Divided Self). Indeed, the entire narrative that quickly unfolds in "High Rise" is a fantasy apparently based on certain theories associated with Laing.

Clearly, there are some weighty ideas underpinning Ballard's book.

The novel is about three men who live on three different floors of the tower block - one low, another in the middle, another in the penthouse - each thereby representing a position in the tri-level internal social structure of the inhabitants. Besides Laing on the 25th floor, the story follows the experiences of a muscular former sportsman (now TV producer) from the 3rd floor who works his way up the building named "Wilder" (suggestions of a wild man and survivor), and the architect who tries to rule and control the building from his penthouse named "Royal" (overtones of royalty and kingship).

As well as alluding to Laing's theories, the figure of Royal is a dreamer in along the lines of the influential modern architect Le Corbusier: because Royal likewise sees architecture as a way to regulating people, a physical means for social engineering. His plan is to have his high rise building run as an oligarchy, with the people on the privileged upper five floors in charge. (Shades of Plato's Republic here?) But it doesn't pan out that way.

Nowhere in Ballard's book is the visual style of the high rise building described, although the author is clearly refering throughout to the debates centering on Brutalist architecture movement of the 1950s to 70s. This was a blocky functionalist style of urban architecture associated with residential towers and civic centres, which (inspired by Le Corbusier's "Unite de Habitation" tower in Marseilles), aspired to develop new lifestyles for residents. However, as in Ballard's book, most Brutalist residential projects were prone to rapid urban decay, with festering social problems, including rising crime rates and the emergence of gang violence.

Brutalism's defenders argued that the problems were mostly class based, Brutalism being associated with Council Housing projects. But Ballard's book, which fills the building with professional occupants and their families, suggests that the Brutalist social experiment will result in decay irrespective of class and privilege.

This is very much a men's book. It is not just about the disintegration of society. It is about the three men, narrating events from their viewpoint, and while women and children are involved in these events, their own perspective on the disaster that unfolds is not presented. What we get instead is the men telling you what they assume the women and children think and feel. This raises an obvious weakness - women wouldn't be as passive and compliant as they are depicted. Would the feminists in the building become sex slaves without a fight? And history shows that young people adapt quickly to these hostile situations, forming themselves into feral gangs. The story may have been better if a youth gang was included.

Other readers compare Ballard's book to Lord of the Flies, but there is a stronger connection with the 1970 French film "Themrock", where a Parisian man turns his flat into a cave and starts to live as a neanderthal cannibal. (The Luis Bunuel film "The Exterminating Angel" is another potential source.)

This is the first Ballard book I've read and I am impressed that he engages with serious ideas here. As dystopian fiction goes, this should probably be bracketed with Zamyatin's classic We and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I get the impression from other readers' comments that many are treating this book as an escapist fantasy, but its more thought-provoking and relevant to debates about urban development.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A surreal and chilling study of social degeneration, 12 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
I have just finished reading High Rise, JG Ballard's surreal and chilling study of social degeneration within the walls of a 40 storey apartment block populated by an ascendant order of professional classes. The novel makes for compulsive reading as Ballard propels his complicit characters through an apocalyptic gallop towards their primordial origins. The author fills the margins of his fiction with the accumalitive waste of modern existence, and its encroachment is so powerful that the reader can almost smell the rotting garbage and faecal climate of this surrealist tower block. The intoxicating violence and the strange allure of a human community radically re-ordering itself somewhere outside of the technological frontier make this a must for committed Ballard fans and new readers alike.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Ballard's best novels, 4 Aug 2003
By 
Jason Parkes "We're all Frankies'" (Worcester, UK) - See all my reviews
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   
High Rise (1995) here gets another reissue, just three years after the perfectly fine Flamingo edition- the cover of this one doesn;t appeal very much! High Rise was the third part of what academics and Ballard-buffs like to call 'The Urban Disaster Trilogy'- coming after Crash & Concrete Island.
High Rise has one of the finest opening paragraphs I've read, straight into the dark stuff with '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'! As with many Ballard works- including the locale for the recent Super Cannes- Ballard shows a composite of society, within a society...& beneath that something dark and primal lurking- here there is a literal hegemony from top to bottom in the high rise block which has everything, from a bank to a swimming pool..
Ballard views a society that has closed itself off, and in turn sections of this society that have closed themselves off- one thinks of many things, from the infamous Kitty Genovese case to the LA Riots...This novel reacts to the so-called progression that began to surface in the 1970s- the abortive buildings now being torn down in places like Birmingham- & also taps into the spirit that would birth the yuppies in the 80s and the materialist species that followed in the late 1990s also. As with many Ballard works, there are those atypical Ballardian titles for chapters: The Drained Lake, The Vertical City, The Blood Garden...all roads leading to the sub/unconscious coming to the fore with 1984's autobiographical classic Empire of the Sun.
High Rise is a brief entertaining & horrifying read and remains one of Ballard's strongest novels which ranks well alongside such books as The Drowned World, The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, Concrete Island, Vermillion Sands & Super Cannes.Personally, I feel it's the definitive Ballard novel & would be a much better place to start than with a book like Crash, which alienates as many as those who enjoy it (I fall into the latter group!). For anyone wanting to read Ballard for the first time I'd plump for this, or a short-story collection like The Voices of Time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars J G Ballard at his best, 17 Jun 2013
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This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
This book is absolutely fantastic! Almost a novella, dissecting the hierarchies that human's impose on themselves. Dark, brilliantly written and a real treat!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing and visionary classic, 1 Oct 2012
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
This is an excellent, disturbing and visionary novel which shows Ballard on absolute top form. The residents of a tower block - the `High Rise' of the title' - find that within the building's confines, society begins to crumble and their notion of humanity becomes more and more feral. At the beginning this takes the form of petty disputes, but soon the residents of each floor form themselves into packs and battle for control of the lifts and stairwells, and even launch raids onto other levels. Amazingly some residents still go out to work in the real world each morning, sprucing themselves up and leaving within periods of pre-arranged amnesty, but they're back before dark to enjoy the rampages and wildness of this vertical, concrete jungle. From the opening page, where a man roasts an Alsatian over telephone directories on an apartment balcony, Ballard creates a compulsive dystopia.

In a way it's a novel about class, but not in the traditional British sense - here every character is middle class and professional. (In fact numerous nameless characters are introduced, the only thing we get to know about them is their job title - "airline pilot", "accountant", "TV director".) Rather than Upper Class, Middle Class and Working Class; the high flyers occupy the top floors, the upwardly mobile own the middle while the lower middle class find themselves jammed into the bottom of the building. When battle comes it's between these distinct social strata. (Wilder, one of the characters from the lower floors, spends most of the book trying to ascend the levels, as if his destiny awaits at the top of the social order.) However, even these demarcations start to break down, and what emerges is a new society, one that is chaotic and wild and violent, but with its members bound together tighter than they've ever been before.

With a fantastic internal logic which makes every incredible event seem real, this is rich, powerful and even sometimes moving novel. I've often thought it was amusingly curious that after `The Empire of the Sun' came out, those for whom it was a pleasing introduction to Ballard would have looked for his next best known novel and come to a little thing called `Crash'. After Spielberg-friendly drama, descriptions of twisted metal suffused with semen must have raised some eyebrows. I'm a big fan of `Crash', but think that `High Rise' is just as good and would serve as a far more accessible introduction to all the brilliant weirdness Ballard was capable of.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Battery Living, 10 Feb 2003
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
Much of Ballard's work since the 1970's seems to employ as its central tenet the notion that lifestyle can be packaged and bought, pre-conceived and pre-fabricated. As an unavoidable fact of modern life the big city also features heavily as a theme, imposing the considerations of limited space upon modern man's reified lifestyle choices.
High-Rise is a good attempt to capture the blandness caused by the removal of risk and danger from people's lives, and the main narrative thrust is an imagination of the violence this may reawaken in people. The book is inferior to Cocaine Nights, and maybe Crash, in terms of atmospherics; its real strength lies in the way in which it gradually escalates in violence and purpose. The book is a dizzying, steadily heightening trip into the violent recesses of the human mind and, as always, Ballard's explication of events runs in smooth concurrence with them. The result, as usual, is both logical, mad and slightly claustrophobic. Intense, and recommended, reading.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brutalist environment?, 3 Aug 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
"High Rise" begins with the observations of Robert Laing, a medical man and academic living in a select apartment block, who watches the community around him regress back to a hunter-gatherer culture. His name clearly alludes to the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who explored in the 1950s and 60s if mental illness might be traced to family and community dysfunction, not necessarily to physically-based causes. The entire narrative that quickly unfolds in "High Rise" is a fantasy apparently based on certain theories associated with Laing.
Clearly, there are some weighty ideas underpinning Ballard's book.
The novel is about three men who live on three different floors of the tower block - one low, another in the middle, another in the penthouse - each thereby representing a position in the tri-level internal social structure of the inhabitants. Besides Laing on the 25th floor, the story follows the experiences of a muscular former sportsman (now TV producer) from the 3rd floor who works his way up the building, and whse name is "Wilder" (suggestions of a wild man and survivor); and the architect who tries to rule and control the building from his penthouse, and who is named "Royal" (overtones of royalty and kingship).
As well as alluding to Laing's theories, the figure of Royal is a dreamer in along the lines of the influential modern architect Le Corbusier: because Royal likewise sees architecture as a way to regulating people, a physical means for social engineering. His plan is to have his high rise building run as an oligarchy, with the people on the privileged upper five floors in charge. (Shades of Plato's Republic (Penguin Classics) here?) But it doesn't pan out that way.
Nowhere in Ballard's book is the visual style of the high rise building described, although the author is clearly refering throughout to the debates centering on Brutalist architecture movement of the 1950s to 70s. This was a blocky functionalist style of urban architecture associated with residential towers and civic centres, which (inspired by Le Corbusier's "Unite de Habitation" tower in Marseilles), aspired to develop new lifestyles for residents. However, as in Ballard's book, most Brutalist residential projects were prone to rapid urban decay, with festering social problems, including rising crime rates and the emergence of gang violence.
Brutalism's defenders argued that the problems were mostly class based, Brutalism being associated with Council Housing projects. But Ballard's book, which fills the building with professional occupants and their families, suggests that the Brutalist social experiment will result in decay irrespective of class and privilege.
This is very much a men's book. It is not just about the disintegration of society. It is about the three men, narrating events from their viewpoint, and while women and children are involved in these events, their own perspective on the disaster that unfolds is not presented. What we get instead is the men telling you what they assume the women and children think and feel. This raises an obvious weakness - women wouldn't be as passive and compliant as they are depicted. Would the feminists in the building become sex slaves without a fight? And history shows that young people adapt quickly to these hostile situations, forming themselves into feral gangs. The story may have been better if a youth gang was included.

There are obvious connections between Ballard's book and Lord of the Flies, but there is a stronger connection with the 1970 French film "Themrock", where a Parisian man turns his flat into a cave and starts to live as a neanderthal cannibal. (The Luis Bunuel film "The Exterminating Angel" is another potential source.)
This is the first Ballard book I've read and I am impressed that he engages with serious ideas here. As dystopian fiction goes, this should probably be bracketed with Zamyatin's classic We (Penguin Classics) and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics). Readers may be tempted to treat this book as an escapist fantasy, but its more thought-provoking and relevant to debates about urban development.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Evening's Entertainment, 30 Jun 2004
By 
"kdonn2410" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This is really prime Ballard. He has produced great works like The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash but as usual it is his 'urban-disasters' that prove to be the more involving reads and High-rise is my personal favourite.
The formula isnt any different to that of 'The Drowned Wolrd' or, more recently, 'Millennium People' but it still works effective in working a range of genres like social and political with good old excitement (with a dab of the black ballard humour). High Rise is my favourite because it is very accessible but doesnt lose out because of it. The atmosphere built is think and intense, reminiscient of 'Lord of the Flies' or the crawling paranoia of 'Apocalypse Now'. Characters are typically undeveloped but what they get up to and the clarity of their surroundings more than makes up for it.
Keep in mind that youve gotta let your imagination fly with this one more than others. Its top stuff.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough look at the affect of modern urban development on society, 7 July 2014
By 
Killie (Armadale, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
“High-Rise” by J.G. Ballard is a dystopian novel written in the 1970s which details the collapse of society within a forty storey tower block. The plot follows three different people within the block who each live on different floors, one low, one in the middle and one in the penthouse. Each of these people represents a different level within the social structure of the inhabitants which is linked into how high up they live within the tower block. This fully self-contained community soon begins to fracture as resentments and irritations between different groups boil to the surface resulting in vandalism, abuse and violence.

The first thing that struck about this novel is that it has an incredibly memorable first line:

“Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous months.”

Starting a novel with a scene from the latter portion of the plot like this isn’t new but the way in which Ballard did it left me re-reading the line a few times just to make sure I hadn’t miss-read it. In the end this, section regarding the dog was actually quite mild compared to what was to come with rape, murder and violence clearly present. It really did feel like a misanthrope’s dream which I have to admit can at times make this a tough read as it is hard to really like anyone at all.

However, Ballard’s writing was good enough to keep me reading as I could really see the garbage strewn rooms of the tower block and hear the sounds echoing down the corridors. The violence of the situations are also not just pure brute descriptions, there are some rather chilling moments which are expertly written such as one of the roof involving cannibalism.

One aspect of the story which struck me as being a weakness is that the three people whose perspectives we get are all men. Yes, women are involved in the story but their own thoughts, views or ideas are left unclarified. I think the novel would have been greatly enhanced by at least getting part of the story told from a feminine viewpoint.

I think my biggest issue with the novel however is that I just couldn’t believe that groups of intelligent, professional adults could descend into tribal chaos when the wider world is perfectly normal and still available to them. If there had been some sort of cataclysmic event or they were stranded somewhere then fine, but in this case people just need to leave the building to return to the regular society in which they have been treated well.

Maybe Ballard was just trying to find a way to create an allegorical look at modern urban development and its effect of society. Either way, it had me thinking about it and comparing his tower block with the rapid urban decay and social problems that ended up plaguing the UK’s real tower blocks. So on that front the novel works, but it would have been nice to also give me a plot that I could actually believe in.

Overall, whilst I found the book to be well written and interesting in how it looks at urban society I just struggled to suspend my disbelief in regards to the plot.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect reading!, 30 Jun 2014
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Un-put-down-able! Compelling, suspense and intrigue, all in the correct amounts. Perfect reading!
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High-Rise by J. G. Ballard (Paperback - 10 April 2014)
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