High-Rise, p.1J. G. Ballard
by J. G. Ballard
A new forty-story luxury apartment building is both location and protagonist of this gripping and unforgettable novel. With amenities that include its own movie theater, swimming pools, supermarket, and elementary school, the building offers a self-contained world of comfortable living for its 2,000 tenants.
It is only with full occupancy that the residents' repressed antagonisms begin to break through the surface, at first in such half-playful occurrences as the dropping of debris from the top floors onto the balconies below. Then, in rapid retallatory succession, violence breaks out in the halls and stairways, children are abused, a dog is drowned in a swimming pool, and a rich jeweler is flung to his death from his penthouse. Tenants separate into three rival groupls relative to the level of their apartments, and inexorably all are carried back into a kind of stone-age primitivism. We follow about a dozen lives through this terrifying process -- in particular, the architect who designed the building and lives on its top floor, a middle-echelon doctor who first realizes what is going on and gives himself up to its new logic, and a TV
producer from the bottom floor who determines to fight his way to the top. By a strange paradox they continue with their lives in the world outside as if nothing is amiss, clinging all the while to the hope of making sense of the technological landscape they have helped to create, even as it crumbles around them.
Reminiscent of William Golding's _Lord of the Flies_, _High-Rise_ is a masterfully enacted vision of human violence and regression, a novel that will reverberate in the minds of its readers long after its shocking conclusion.
J. G. BALLARD has published many novels and short stories to critical acclaim here and abroad. His most recent titles include _The Drowned World_, _The Atrocity Exhibit_, _Love and Napalm_, and _Crash_.
Jacket illustration by Carlos Ochagavia
Holt, Rinehart and Winston
383 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10017
Copyright (c) 1975 by J. G. Ballard
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
First published in the United States in 1977. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data ISBN 0-03-020651-0
Printed in the United States of America
1 Critical Mass 7
2 Party Time 25
3 Death of a Resident 40
4 Up! 50
5 The Vertical City 59
6 Danger in the Streets of the Sky 70
7 Preparations for Departure 81
8 The Predatory Birds 94
9 Into the Drop Zone 102
10 The Drained Lake 112
11 Punitive Expeditions 124
12 Towards the Summit 133
13 Body Markings 145
14 Final Triumph 156
15 The Evening's Entertainment 164
16 A Happy Arrangement 171
17 The Lakeside Pavilion 183
18 The Blood Garden 191
19 Night Games 199
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.
Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension.
With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school -- all in effect abandoned in the sky -- the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation. Certainly his own studio apartment on the 25th floor was the last place Laing would have chosen as an early skirmish-ground. This over-priced cell, slotted almost at random into the cliff face of the apartment building, he had bought after his divorce specifically for its peace, quiet and anonymity. Curiously enough, despite all Laing's efforts to detach himself from his two thousand neighbours and the regime of trivial disputes and irritations that provided their only corporate life, it was here if anywhere that the first significant event had taken place -- on this balcony where he now squatted beside a fire of telephone directories, eating the roast hind-quarter of the alsatian before setting off to his lecture at the medical school.
While preparing breakfast soon after eleven o'clock one Saturday morning three months earlier, Dr Laing was startled by an explosion on the balcony outside his living-room. A bottle of sparkling wine had fallen from a floor fifty feet above, ricocheted off an awning as it hurtled downwards, and burst across the tiled balcony floor.
The living-room carpet was speckled with foam and broken glass. Laing stood in his bare feet among the sharp fragments, watching the agitated wine seethe across the cracked tiles. High above him, on the 31st floor, a party was in progress. He could hear the sounds of deliberately over-animated chatter, the aggressive blare of a record-player. Presumably the bottle had been knocked over the rail by a boisterous guest. Needless to say, no one at the party was in the least concerned about the ultimate destination of this missile -- but as Laing had already discovered, people in high-rises tended not to care about tenants more than two floors below them.
Trying to identify the apartment, Laing stepped across the spreading pool of cold froth.
Sitting there, he might easily have found himself with the longest hangover in the world. He leaned out over the rail and peered up at the face of the building, carefully counting the balconies. As usual, though, the dimensions of the forty-storey block made his head reel. Lowering his eyes to the tiled floor, he steadied himself against the door pillar. The immense volume of open space that separated the building from the neighbouring high-rise a quarter of a mile away unsettled his sense of balance. At times he felt that he was living in the gondola of a ferris wheel permanently suspended three hundred feet above the ground.
Nonetheless, Laing was still exhilarated by the high-rise, one of five identical units in the development project and the first to be completed and occupied. Together they were set in a mile-square area of abandoned dockland and warehousing along the north bank of the river. The five high-rises stood on the eastern perimeter of the project, looking out across an ornamental lake --
at present an empty concrete basin surrounded by parking-lots and construction equipment. On the opposite shore stood the recently completed concert-hall, with Laing's medical school and the new television studios on either side. The massive scale of the glass and concrete architecture, and its striking situation on a bend of the river, sharply separated the development project from the run-down areas around it, decaying nineteenth-century terraced houses and empty factories already zoned for reclamation.
For all the proximity of the City two miles away to the west along the river, the office buildings of central London belonged to a different world, in time as well as space. Their glass curtain-walling and telecommunication aerials were obscured by the traffic smog, blurring Laing's memories of the past. Six months earlier, when he had sold the lease of his Chelsea house and moved to the security of the high-rise, he had travelled forward fifty years in time, away from crowded streets, traffic hold-ups, rush-hour journeys on the Underground to student supervisions in a shared office in the old teaching hospital.
Here, on the other hand, the dimensions of his life were space, light and the pleasures of a subtle kind of anonymity. The drive to the physiology department of the medical school took him five minutes, and apart from this single excursion Laing's life in the high-rise was as self-contained as the building itself. In effect, the apartment block was a small vertical city, its two thousand inhabitants boxed up into the sky. The tenants corporately
For all its size, the high-rise contained an impressive range of services. The entire 10th floor was given over to a wide concourse, as large as an aircraft carrier's flight-deck, which contained a supermarket, bank and hairdressing salon, a swimming-pool and gymnasium, a well-stocked liquor store and a junior school for the few young children in the block. High above Laing, on the 35th floor, was a second, smaller swimming-pool, a sauna and a restaurant. Delighted by this glut of conveniences, Laing made less and less effort to leave the building. He unpacked his record collection and played himself into his new life, sitting on his balcony and gazing across the parking-lots and concrete plazas below him. Although the apartment was no higher than the 25th floor, he felt for the first time that he was looking down at the sky, rather than up at it. Each day the towers of central London seemed slightly more distant, the landscape of an abandoned planet receding slowly from his mind. By contrast with the calm and unencumbered geometry of the concert-hall and television studios below him, the ragged skyline of the city resembled the disturbed encephalograph of an unresolved mental crisis.
The apartment had been expensive, its studio living-room and single bedroom, kitchen and bathroom dovetailed into each other to minimize space and eliminate internal corridors. To his sister Alice Frobisher, who lived with her publisher husband in a larger apartment three floors below, Laing had remarked, "The architect must have spent his formative years in a space capsule --
I'm surprised the walls don't curve . . ."
At first Laing found something alienating about the concrete landscape of the project --
an architecture designed for war, on the unconscious level if no other. After all the tensions of his divorce, the last thing he wanted to look out on each morning was a row of concrete bunkers.
However, Alice soon convinced him of the intangible appeal of life in a luxury high-rise.
Seven years older than Laing, she made a shrewd assessment of her brother's needs in the months after his divorce. She stressed the efficiency of the building's services, the total privacy. "You could be alone here, in an empty building -- think of _that_, Robert." She added, illogically,
"Besides, it's full of the kind of people you ought to meet."
Here she was making a point that had not escaped Laing during his inspection visits. The two thousand tenants formed a virtually homogeneous collection of well-to-do professional people --
lawyers, doctors, tax consultants, senior academics and advertising executives, along with a smaller group of airline pilots, film-industry technicians and trios of air-hostesses sharing apartments. By the usual financial and educational yardsticks they were probably closer to each other than the members of any conceivable social mix, with the same tastes and attitudes, fads and styles -- clearly reflected in the choice of automobiles in the parking-lots that surrounded the high-rise, in the elegant but somehow standardized way in which they furnished their apartments, in the selection of sophisticated foods in the supermarket delicatessen, in the tones of their self-confident voices. In short, they constituted the perfect background into which Laing could merge invisibly. His sister's excited vision of Laing alone in an empty building was closer to the truth than she realized. The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective body of tenants, but the individual resident in isolation. Its staff of air-conditioning conduits, elevators, garbage-disposal chutes and electrical switching systems provided a never-failing supply of care and attention that a century earlier would have needed an army of tireless servants.
Besides all this, once Laing had been appointed senior lecturer in physiology at the new medical school, the purchase of an apartment nearby made sense. It helped him as well to postpone once again any decision to give up teaching and take up general practice. But as he told himself, he was still waiting for his real patients to appear -- perhaps he would find them here in the high-rise? Rationalizing his doubts over the cost of the apartment, Laing signed a ninety-nine-year lease and moved into his one-thousandth share of the cliff face.
The sounds of the party continued high over his head, magnified by the currents of air that surged erratically around the building. The last of the wine rilled along the balcony gutter, sparkling its way into the already immaculate drains. Laing placed his bare foot on the cold tiles and with his toes detached the label from its glass fragment. He recognized the wine immediately, a brand of expensive imitation champagne that was sold pre-chilled in the loth-floor liquor store and was its most popular line.
They had been drinking the same wine at Alice's party the previous evening, in its way as confused an affair as the one taking place that moment over his head. Only too keen to relax after demonstrating all afternoon in the physiology laboratories, and with an eye on an attractive fellow guest, Laing had inexplicably found himself in a minor confrontation with his immediate neighbours on the 25th floor, an ambitious young orthodontic surgeon named Steele and his pushy fashion-consultant wife. Half-way through a drunken conversation Laing had suddenly realized that he had managed to offend them deeply over their shared garbage-disposal chute. The two had cornered Laing behind his sister's bar, where Steele fired a series of pointed questions at him, as though seriously disturbed by a patient's irresponsible attitude towards his own mouth. His slim face topped by a centre parting -- always an indication to Laing of some odd character strain
-- pressed ever closer, and he half-expected Steele to ram a metal clamp or retractor between his teeth. His intense, glamorous wife followed up the attack, in some way challenged by Laing's offhand manner, his detachment from the serious business of living in the high-rise. Laing's fondness for pre-lunch cocktails, his nude sunbathing on the balcony, and his generally raffish air obviously unnerved her. She clearly felt that at the age of thirty Laing should have been working twelve hours a day in a fashionable consultancy, and be in every way as respectably self-aggrandizing as her husband. No doubt she regarded Laing as some kind of internal escapee from the medical profession, with a secret tunnel into a less responsible world.
This low-level bickering surprised Laing, but after his arrival at the apartment building he soon recognized the extraordinary number of thinly veiled antagonisms around him. The high-rise had a second life of its own. The talk at Alice's party moved on two levels -- never far below the froth of professional gossip was a hard mantle of personal rivalry. At times he felt that they were all waiting for someone to make a serious mistake.
After breakfast, Laing cleared the glass from the balcony. Two of the decorative tiles had been cracked. Mildly irritated, Laing picked up the bottle neck, still with its wired cork and foil in place, and tossed it over the balcony rail. A few seconds later he heard it shatter among the cars parked below.
Pulling himself together, Laing peered cautiously over the ledge -- he might easily have knocked in someone's windscreen. Laughing aloud at this aberrant gesture, he looked up at the 31st floor. What were they celebrating at eleven-thirty in the morning ? Laing listened to the noise mount as more guests arrived. Was this a party that had accidentally started too early, or one that had been going on all night and was now getting its second wind? The internal time of the high-rise, like an artificial psychological climate, operated to its own rhythms, generated by a combination of alcohol and insomnia.
On the balcony diagonally above him one of Laing's neighbours, Charlotte Melville, was setting out a tray of drinks on a table. Queasily aware of his strained liver, Laing remembered that at Alice's party the previous evening he had accepted an invitation to cocktails. Thankfully, Charlotte had rescued him from the orthodontic surgeon with the disposal-chute obsessions. Laing had been too drunk to get anywhere with this good-looking widow of thirty-five, apart from learning that she was a copywriter with a small but lively advertising agency. The proximity of her apartment, like her easy style, appealed to Laing, exciting in him a confusing blend of l
Sex was one thing, Laing kept on reminding himself, that the high-rise potentially provided in abundance. Bored wives, dressed up as if for a lavish midnight gala on the observation roof, hung around the swimming-pools and restaurant in the slack hours of the early afternoon, or strolled arm-in-arm along the loth-floor concourse. Laing watched them saunter past him with a fascinated but cautious eye. For all his feigned cynicism, he knew that he was in a vulnerable zone in this period soon after his divorce -- one happy affair, with Charlotte Melville or anyone else, and he would slip straight into another marriage. He had come to the high-rise to get away from all relationships. Even his sister's presence, and the reminders of their high-strung mother, a doctor's widow slowly sliding into alcoholism, at one time seemed too close for comfort.
However, Charlotte had briskly put all these fears to rest. She was still preoccupied by her husband's death from leukaemia, her six-year-old son's welfare and, she admitted to Laing, her insomnia -- a common complaint in the high-rise, almost an epidemic. All the residents he had met, on hearing that Laing was a physician, at some point brought up their difficulties in sleeping. At parties people discussed their insomnia in the same way that they referred to the other built-in design flaws of the apartment block. In the early hours of the morning the two thousand tenants subsided below a silent tide of seconal.
Laing had first met Charlotte in the 35th-floor swimming-pool, where he usually swam, partly to be on his own, and partly to avoid the children who used the 10th-floor pool. When he invited her to a meal in the restaurant she promptly accepted, but as they sat down at the table she said pointedly, "Look, I only want to talk about myself."
Laing had liked that.
At noon, when he arrived at Charlotte's apartment, a second guest was already present, a television producer named Richard Wilder. A thick-set, pugnacious man who had once been a professional rugby-league player, Wilder lived with his wife and two sons on the 2nd floor of the building. The noisy parties he held with his friends on the lower levels -- airline pilots and hostesses sharing apartments -- had already put him at the centre of various disputes. To some extent the irregular hours of the tenants on the lower levels had cut them off from their neighbours above. In an unguarded moment Laing's sister had whispered to him that there was a brothel operating somewhere in the high-rise. The mysterious movements of the air-hostesses as they pursued their busy social lives, particularly on the floors above her own, clearly unsettled Alice, as if they in some way interfered with the natural social order of the building, its system of precedences entirely based on floor-height. Laing had noticed that he and his fellow tenants were far more tolerant of any noise or nuisance from the floors above than they were from those below them. However, he liked Wilder, with his loud voice and rugby-scrum manners. He let a needed dimension of the unfamiliar into the apartment block. His relationship with Charlotte Melville was hard to gauge -- his powerful sexual aggression was overlaid by a tremendous restlessness. No wonder his wife, a pale young woman with a postgraduate degree who reviewed children's books for the literary weeklies, seemed permanently exhausted.
High-Rise by J. G. Ballard / Science Fiction / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes