Prepare to be Unsettled: High Rise by JG Ballard
I’ve always been a person to love stories of adventure, magic, and danger. After finishing Sharp Objects, I was craving some more realism. I noticed High Rise peeking out of the corner of my bookshelf, and decided to give it a reread.
Immediately, we’re thrust into the world of Robert Laing — divorcee, doctor, and med-school lecturer. In an effort to recover from the separation of his late wife, Laing moves into a newly completed high-rise building on the edges of London.
There are two things that stuck out to me when I read High Rise. The first, was that the novel in its entirety takes place in the building. Everything that a modern tenant could ever need is also encased in the property. Local stores, schools, gyms/swimming pools are all located in the high-rise. Furthermore, the fact that every member of the high-rise came from a position of wealth and affluence made certain parts of the novel very interesting to read. However, while the tenants of the high-rise are wealthy and materially rich, they have the capability of being morally and ethically bankrupt.
“Soon after nine o’clock that evening, an electrical failure blacked out the 9th, 10th, and 11th floors. […] A woman passenger trapped in an elevator between the 10th and 11th floors became hysterical, possibly the victim of a minor sexual assault – the restoration of light in due course revealed its crop of illicit liasons flourishing in the benevolent conditions of total darkness like a voracious plant species.”
This quote stuck with me as I read on, as more situations within the high-rise continue, the tone of the book shifts from controlled and civil to anarchic. When we imagine the the wealthy, we imagine a life of luxury, no bills lurking around the corner, or any nasty mishappenings. But in High Rise, the longer we go on to experience Laing’s perspective, the more we see how corrupt the people in the building become.