High Rise: When fiction was a prediction

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Imagine a 40-storey high-rise building beset by all the usual minor irritations – noisy parties, petty rules and restrictions, privileges for the rich on the upper floors, the occasional champagne bottle dropped from a great height, the odd power cut.  So far so familiar?

But then it all gets out of hand, leading to tribal warfare, murder, rape and mayhem. High Rise, a story with a very “now”, if exaggerated sensibility, has just been made into a major movie starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and Elizabeth Moss.

Yet J. G. Ballard’s dystopic novel was first published 40 years ago. And if you think your apartment block is dysfunctional, you need to take a look at  a book that has been described as the 1984 of apartment living, with predictions that seemed closer to science fiction than reality … until they came true.

You can get a taste of High Rise by going to titlemagazine.com.au where the  entire first chapter is available for a limited time.

High Rise takes place in a multi-level city in the sky with shops, restaurants, swimming pools, beauty parlours and a gym.  Hello Sydney’s World Tower and Melbourne’s Eureka?

And if you think a primary school in an apartment complex is a bit far-fetched, there already is one in Eindhoven in the Netherlands and others, of course, in Hong Kong.

For all the fantasy elements, the story is grounded in apartment life as we know it. Squabbles between residents over the allocation of parking spaces – too few for the people on lower floors, too many for the high fliers upstairs – are matter of fact in today’s unit blocks.

The addition of a documentary maker – an ex rugby league player – played by Luke Evans is perilously close to our own current obsession with reality TV and sports star presenters.

Where fact stops and fiction takes over is the civil war that erupts between the have-nots on the lower floors and the privileged few in the upper storeys.

High Rise the movie is doing well on the international festival circuit and should be here in Australia some time next year.

As for the novel, attention has rarely been more effectively grabbed than by its opening line: “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.

J. G. Ballard may be better known for his biographical Empire of the Sun and novels such as Crash, but The Times claimed High Rise was his finest work and the UK’s Sunday Times said he was ‘a prophetic writer’.

Novellist Martin Amis, writing in the New Statesman, described it as “an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers unsettlingly in the mind.”

 

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