Sunday, 18 October 2015

Looking forward to seeing Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Dr Robert Laing in High-rise? The film is adapted from the 1974 novel by JG Ballard which I reviewed back in 1974....

Watch the “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.”

With a new film in production, with Tom Hiddleston and director Ben Wheatley, and the Tate Britain exploring the enigma of ruined architecture, in current show Ruin Lust, this is the perfect time to pick up a copy of JG Ballard's 1975 sci-fi gem Highrise.

In the novel Ballard imagines a scenario in which society, in this case within the microcosm of a luxury Highrise development, completely breaks down. What begin as minor malfunctions such as faulty lifts and waste disposal systems soon escalate to life threatening events as the inhabitants turn feral within the luxury carpeted halls. Social order is literally thrown from the high rise balconies as a new dystopian order seeps through the concrete structure of the vertical city. 

The story centres on 3 key characters who neatly represent the social worlds that exist within the complex. On one of the lower proletariat floors is Laing, a lecturer who we meet early on in the novel roasting an Alsatian on a pyre of yellow pages. Higher up lives TV producer and social climber Wilder. On one of the upper floors is Royal, architect, urbanist and idealist.

The work is at its best when the boundaries blur between the social strata creating an anti-society no-mans land. Ballard allows us to experience this through the eyes of the three main protagonists effectively. This wouldn't have worked as well told through one single view point.

The challenge with the novel is to recognise that this is essentially a period piece. Much has changed since 1975 and the book is markedly void of digital interference.

A great read with a unforgettable first opening sentence that will hook you in whether browsing in the library/bookshop or trying a kindle sample. Your perfect hit of post-apocolyptic mayhem.

More about the film adaptation here

More about Tate Britain's show here

Tweet @wordsshortlist if you're planning to read

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