Review of “High Rise” by JG Ballard – audiobook version

“Dry narrative, odd structure, great performance”

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Probably not. I liked the story, the manner in which it explored the basest impulses of human nature, how people can descend into animalism. But, the narrative was full of “info dumps,” and was structured more as a rather repetitive lecture rather than a story arc. The story arc was there, but the rising action was too quick, there was no real turning point, no real climax, and the falling action fell with a thump. The ending was done well, though, giving the story a cyclical feeling with the idea that the whole thing could happen all over again. The writing was stilted, and there was very little dialogue at all. Characterization was more tell than show. Lots of telling in this story, in fact. Yet, if this book was meant to break the molds of typical writing and was meant in itself to be a breakdown of the societal norms then it did the job.

What other book might you compare High-Rise to and why?

High Rise is like no other book that I’ve read, other than perhaps Lord of the Flies.

What does Tom Hiddleston bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Tom Hiddleston’s reading kept me interested in the story. He took the dry, rambling narrative and gave it life and character. He made the parts that were repetitive of each other and gave them different tones and emphases. He brought the “feeling” out of a rather unfeeling style of writing.

EDITED TO ADD after further thought:

I think I know now some of the things that bothered me more about this book. And perhaps those things were supposed to bother me, I’m not certain. First is the treatment of rape in this book. It’s often dismissed, brushed away, and left to be seen as something of every day life to be stared at, forgotten, or made less important. This is troublesome, although again, it could have been written that way to show just how deeply these people in the high rise have fallen to their animal instincts.

Second, is the manner in which people forgot things. Dr. Laing at one point forgot what a dishwasher does, people forget names of their spouses, forget to eat, forget their own identities, and the reasoning behind it is not clear. It’s as if Ballard snapped his fingers and wiped the brains of these intelligent people clean, which made the entire story less believable in my estimation. Even in the most extreme situations, I think, people will remember the basic things.

Third is the treatment of gender and characterization based upon it. There are no kick ass women in this story, not a single one. Not at least until the end and even then, it’s more of a matronly treatment of it rather than a physical strength. The men are the focus of the story, three in particular, one from each “class” – Royal, Laing and Wilder (I think their names are poignant here as well) and how each of them fall into these male roles of “clan chief” and “provider” and “killer.” The women are treated as vapid and frail, lying about on mattresses, tending to the children, allowing themselves to be groped and raped. I got a bit tired of hearing about Wilder’s cock and Royal’s bloodied jacket, to be honest. A single mention of them would have been enough. Laing was the character I had the most hope for… and in the end he was nothing more than a henpecked slave.

Anyway, more thoughts, criticisms or no. This book can either be seen as intellectually brilliant or rather vacant and stupid. I haven’t decided which, and I suppose it depends on the reader and the reader’s mood. 🙂 Which, in itself is the sign of damn good art.

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