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.
Now, I am a big dog lover but I confess I was intrigued enough to continue. The book the retraces the previous three months and how an urbane professional such as Dr. Laing ends up roasting an Alsatian on his balcony.
High Rise is a dystopian narrative of how swiftly social niceties fall apart in a new architectural tower block inhabited by the professional classes. The story starts with Dr. Laing, recently divorced, living in a single flat part way up the high rise. Laing plays squash, attends drinks parties and works as a lecturer at a medical school. He generally enjoys a life of languid isolation, though pressured to engage socially by his sister who also lives in the tower block. Things begin to change for Laing when Royal, the building’s architect and inhabitant of the penthouse, declines a squash engagement, and a rich jewellers wife begins to disagree with some of the families who live on the lower levels. Minor disagreements are exacerbated as the building begins to experience power fluctuations and occasional blackouts. Then, two deaths occur, an Afghan hound is drowned in a swimming pool and the rich jeweller plummets to his death from the roof.
Ballard guides the reader through the narrative by focusing on a few key characters, Royal the architect, Wilder, a filmmaker who lives with his wife and two children on the second floor and Laing. The women in these men’s lives begin at the peripheries of the story and gradually move to the centre as civilised lives move to tribal packs and then disintegrate into primal survival. Ballard questions the nature of humanity, of the values of class and society in the same way H.G Wells shows human degeneration in The Time Machine. The curious part of High Rise is that, in essence, all the people who live in the tower block are ‘haves’, no one is actually poor, but some are poorer that others. Ballard questions how we live together, what binds people to certain patterns of behaviour and how we identify our ‘tribe’. Though written in the 1970s it remains as pertinent today, almost half a century later, as it holds up a mirror to the idea of a civilised society.