High-Rise is a dystopian novel by J G Ballard set almost entirely within a newly built forty storey high-rise block. Shown here are two sheets of summary notes for High-Rise, together with the opening pages from an early draft of the novel. Both were first written out on a typewriter, and later heavily annotated and revised by hand in blue and black pen.
Published in 1975, High-Rise’s futurism is located in the very near future, or, as Ballard put it, in ‘the next five minutes’. Its opening line is one of the most arresting in 20th-century fiction: ‘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.’ Unlike his earlier novels, High-Rise scrutinises the nuances of social and economic class division in this strangely cloistered setting, as the different strata of a civilised middle and upper middleclass society cut themselves off from the outside world and atavistically degenerate. The summary notes, shown here, capture the outbreak of violence and social breakdown with brutal concision. Ballard’s summary is punctuated by the gradual loss of electricity throughout the building: ‘1 floor blacked out’; ‘3 floors blacked out’ [etc].
Ballard draws his novel from many contemporary developments within architecture and urban planning, not least the Brutalist Balfron Tower in east London that was designed by architect Ernö Goldfinger. Like Ballard’s Anthony Royal, Goldfinger and his wife lived in a top floor apartment of the building for two months in 1968 – and reportedly threw lavish champagne parties - to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of life in a high-rise property. Ultimately, High-Rise is a novel concerned with ‘inner space’, which Ballard defined as ‘an imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other the inner world of mind meet and merge’ (1968). As in Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), High-Rise explores the effects of the built environment on our psyches. Even the high-rise seems to have a consciousness all of its own: ‘Like a huge and aggressive malefactor, the high-rise was determined to inflict every conceivable hostility upon them’.