Article published on February 26, 2016.
J.G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai. After internment in a civilian prison camp, his family returned to England in 1946. His 1984 bestseller ‘Empire of the Sun’ won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His controversial novel ‘Crash’ was made into a film by David Cronenberg. J. G. Ballard passed away in 2009 but his cult reputation as a major experimental and prophetic writer has endured. In Len Deighton’s memorable formulation, Ballard was not writing science fiction but “history ahead of its time.”
First published in 1975, High-Rise ranks among J. G. Ballard’s finest novels with a killer hi-concept premise which, you might think, would have appealed to film directors before now, but better late than never, one supposes. It’s a compelling and unnerving tale of what happens when life in a luxury apartment building descends into chaos. It also has one of the best opening lines in all literature: “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.”
Within the walls of an elegant forty-storey high-rise, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors, and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for mayhem. In this visionary novel, the veneer of civilised society is stripped away as the inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by intimidation and violence.
Opening in March, High-Rise is now a major motion picture starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss. Martin Amis called High-Rise “an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers unsettlingly in the mind” and he is but one of a host of eminent Ballardistas including Zadie Smith, Neil Gaiman, John Lanchester, Ned Beauman, Ali Smith and Deborah Levy all of whom have contributed introductions to the recent reissues of his backlist. The movie, it is earnestly to be wished, may help stimulate a critical re-evaluation of an under-rated but undeniably major English writer.
Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard is published by Fourth Estate as a £8.99 film tie-in PBK on 10th March.
In UK cinemas on 18th March (c) Studiocanal UK.
Watch a trailer
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