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 direction.

These two sentences, possibly the best hook I have ever seen, begin this 1975 novel by J. G. Ballard. Before Oath of Fealty, before Sliver, there was High-Rise. A brand new 40-story 1000-apartment building, one of five built just outside London, reaches capacity and nearly immediately begins to crumble. This is a modern building, with swimming pools, the tenth floor given over to a shopping plaza and recreation area, on the roof, a sculpture garden and two penthouses. One of these penthouses is occupied by Anthony Royal, one of the architects of the project, with his long fair hair, scarred forehead, platinum cane and albino Alsatian. He unwillingly oversees the destruction of the self-contained society of the building.

The characters are what we have come to expect from Ballard -- complex but moved by forces larger than themselves. Within the first few chapters, the microcosm of the building falls prey to the worst humanity has to offer, with a rigid and violent social structure based primarily on how high in the building you live. The services of the building are failing, with the upper floors shoveling dog shit into the air conditioner ducts, the lower floors putting together raiding parties to urinate in the 35th floor swimming pool, electrical outages, and murder. Soon, the entire building becomes an insulated, cut-off savage island.

By the time Laing eats the dog, things are indeed getting back to normal -- but not the normal of the world outside, but the new normal. The book ends with Laing looking across the parking lot from his balcony and seeing the first power outage in the next high-rise in the development, the next building to be filled.

node your bookcase!

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