The second book I attempted for this years summer reading challenge was J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise. I say “attempted” because I did not finish the book. I made it a little more than half way through, and then I put it down. I’ll explain my reasons why in a moment, but first, a synopsis.
High Rise is a novel set in England (London area) in the mid 1990s that follows a group of tenants who all reside in a state-of-the-art, high end high rise apartment building, complete with pools, restaurants, supermarkets, and a primary school. The first character introduced, not necessarily the main character, is Dr. Laing, a recent divorce who has moved into this high rise at his sisters suggestion. The social climate of the apartment is a bit strained, though everyone socializes, holding parties frequently. Soon, however, the social dynamic of the complex shifts, and the lower floor tenants and upper floor tenants begin to hate one another in a fierce way. The only discernible social divide seems to bee economic: the higher up in the high rise one goes, the more affluent the residents are.
The novel begins with one of the most interesting first lines I think I’ve ever read: “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 if that doesn’t make you curious to keep reading, I’m not quite sure what would.
While I was initially intrigued by the opening line of the novel, and by the premise (Utopian social experiment gone horribly wrong), I could not finish the book for a few reasons. First, I couldn’t really identify with any of the characters. All of the women in the book were stupid, and as a woman, I just couldn’t get past that. This, however, isn’t the main problem and it wasn’t sexism either, because reason two for disliking this book is that all of the CHARACTERS were stupid. By stupid, I mean lacking in common sense. This element made the gradual decent into chaos unbearable for me because nothing was believable after a certain point. Everyone was rationally and morally depraved. It was ridiculous. I read the book for the social commentary and dystopian insight, but all I really walked away with is a horror of the authors apparent opinion of human nature: we’re all stupid and wicked at heart. No common sense, no higher beliefs, just animal instincts and diabolical wickedness once cut of from mainstream culture.
Someone else may like this book, but as for this ponderer, I couldn’t get past the above mentioned problems. The writing was excellent and the audio book was beautifully read (By Tom Hiddleston, who plays Robert Laing in the film adaptation), but the story content was controversial at best, depraved at worst.
Have you read this book? Better yet, have you seen the movie? Thoughts? Also, have any of you out there ever read a book that just rubbed you the wrong way? What was it, and what about the book made you put it down early (or regret finishing it)?
I hope to hear from some of you. The Summer Reading Challenge continues! I hope my next book is more enjoyable.
Regina, the Pensive Ponderer.