High-rise – J.G Ballard

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This is such a weird book. It starts like this:

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.

It´s a story about the unraveling of a miniature society almost in a “lord of the flies” kind of way but with adults. It all takes place in a high-rise sometime in the 1980´s. It centers around three men living in the building; Richard Wilder lives at the bottom, Robert Laing in the middle and Anthony Royal, the architect, lives in the penthouse. Around them the building and it´s citizens are falling apart. It starts innocently enough; loud parties that go on well into the morning, bottles and trash are flung off balconies, glitches begin to appear. Before too long chaos reigns. The building shuts down and no one seems to care. A man is killed in the pool and no one calls the police.  Resentment builds and soon there is all out war between different factions in the high-rise. People are beaten, women are raped, graffiti is sprayed across the walls and sabotage is rampant.

The three men have very different goals. Wilder wants to leave the bottom and “climb” to the top of the building. Laing, who resents the upper levels and is disdainful to the lower levels, hunkers down on his floor and Royal stays on the top, protecting his creation as it were.

The way all the inhabitants of the high-rise gradually get, for all intents and purposes, completely fucked up is extremely interesting. Reading I began to wonder if it was the building itself that held some kind of control over the inhabitants.

I do have issues with the book, most of all I was increasingly annoyed with the portrayal of the women in the book. Not one of them was a full fledged character on the same level as the men. They were either docile women who needed protecting, bodies open to any and all kind of assault or passive victims.

It is a fundamentally intriguing idea and text. The fact that I don´t understand what happened in the building doesn´t matter – I don´t think anybody ever does understand.

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