"High-Rise" by J.G. Ballard | Book Review

Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopia
Page Count: 208
First Published: 1975

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard is a very grim look at humanity, and it's not going to be a book for everyone. Set inside a luxurious high-rise building that has everything its occupants need to never leave again, this novel explores just how nasty people can get when faced with extreme circumstances.

Ballard's writing is outstanding. It's descriptive and distinct, while also getting right to the point, and it will make you vividly imagine everything you're reading about, whether you're ready for it or not. High-Rise may leave a bad taste in your mouth because of the context, but you will never forget the way you felt while reading it.

The setting is also fascinating - this self-contained tall building has everything a person needs, and a social hierarchy meant to mirror modern society. It gives the novel a dystopian tone, while also feeling fairly realistic as the residents descend into chaos. Ballard offers a few different perspectives on the situation by following characters from different levels of the building, but it really comes down to violent and twisted human nature across the board.

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.
— J.G. Ballard

The only question left unanswered is why didn't anyone leave when things started getting really bad? While it seems the implication is that living by the "rules of the jungle" is more natural and liberating to humans, there had to be a good portion of people who would have chosen to go back to the rest of the world. Perhaps, despite the terrible circumstances, this kind of freedom and territorial behavior was preferred to social norms by many residents, but at no point was it impossible to leave or at least get help. How come nobody's survival instinct or plain inability to fight lead them to that solution?

In the end, High-Rise is an extremely thought-provoking, effective, and well-written novel. It may be too graphic or too dark for some readers, but it's hard to ignore how masterfully it is done. I may not have loved it completely, but I was fascinated by it from the first page, and I will definitely be reading more of J.G. Ballard's work. 


P.S. The movie adaptation is currently out in theatres, and available to rent online. If you're interested in hearing my thoughts on the film, please check out the video below:

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