High-Rise is the final book in a quartet of novels by J G Ballard, each of which is seeded in the previous one. These four novels variously explore the psychological and physiological experience of living in gated communities, and, in High-Rise, this concern takes shape in a 40-storey high-rise block, or ‘vertical city’. As a child (in the 1940s), Ballard was interned by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp on the edges of Shanghai. Though he always claimed to have enjoyed this experience, it is difficult not to read this biographical detail into his preoccupation with enclosed space. 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-middle-class society atavistically degenerate.

J G Ballard

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