2016 Classics Challenge, February: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High Rise, JG Ballard

After tackling War and Peace in January, where next to go in the #2016classicschallenge? Already I’ve compiled a fairly hefty lists of classics I finally want to get round to reading, and I’ve actually ended up reading a few books this month which could be considered ‘classics’. However, as one of the more modern classics I’d tackled, JG Ballard’s High-Rise felt like an interesting book to consider here.

When I discovered this classic

I’ll be honest, it was vaguely on my radar but I only really properly discovered it when it was chosen as February’s read for London Book Club.

Why I chose to read it

See above! Although I found the concept pretty intriguing, and I imagine if I hadn’t read it for LBC I would probably have read it before seeing the film.

What makes it a classic?

“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.”

That opening line alone makes it a classic.

What I thought of this classic

Did I like it? Well, not really. It’s difficult to like a book filled with violence, murder, rape and consumption of pets. But I didn’t exactly hate it either.

I’ve never read a book which has so vividly depicted smells. I felt genuinely disgusted by the description of rotting bags of rubbish piled up in the corridors, as if the smell was suffocating me as I read. Even a couple of weeks after finishing, the sense of the putrid smelling building has stayed with me.

Ballard’s depiction of the high-rise as a character in itself was fascinating, with the building taking on an almost god-like status. As the residents carry out increasingly despicable acts, they never suffer the burden of guilt. All believe their actions to be both inevitable and a necessary part of survival in the high-rise. Like a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where the building is their captor, nobody actually wishes to leave despite the relative simplicity of just leaving.

However, I struggled to really believe in this dystopian tale. Not because it contains any particularly fanciful notions, but because life in the high-rise degenerated so rapidly. One minute the residents are bickering over children in the swimming pool, the next there is fighting and people drowning dogs. Things descend into chaos a little too quickly and easily to feel believable.

Despite its flaws, I’m glad I tackled it. Frustrating, challenging and at times downright disgusting, it certainly gave my book club plenty to talk about.


Will it stay a classic?

It still feels modern 40 years later, so for now I’d say yes.

Who I’d recommend it to

Anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel about the worst of human nature. And maybe anyone who doesn’t like pets.

2016 classics challenge, #2016classicschallenge


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