Pajiban’s might have seen the trailer for the new Tom Hiddleston/Jeremy Irons movie based on this book which looks pretty great. It’s full of gorgeously brutalist architecture and stylised sets and cinematography that hint at the original time period of the book (the mid 70’s). My advice, maybe just watch the movie and skip the book?
First up, I’m going to tell you that a bunch of dogs get killed and/or eaten in this book. That is a total deal breaker for me and if I’d known I wouldn’t have read it.
Second, there is some rape and a lot of patriarchal bullshit with men collecting harems of women who need to be protected. There are no Furiosa moments here. In fact, every single female character is weak, easily defeated, and has no spine or apparent desire to defend herself. I think Sienna Miller is playing the Charlotte Melville character who gets raped and doesn’t care at all about it…I’m kind of hoping they change that part because it’s pretty disturbing.
It’s basically Lord of the Flies in an apartment block, but instead of it being a bunch of traumatised kids fleeing war, surviving a plane crash and being forced to carve out a society by themselves in the wild in order to survive; it’s a bunch of middle class wankers who let petty grievances (like who’s allowed to use a swimming pool) turn their apartment block into the Killing Fields. There are zero stakes and hence zero suspense. It is impossible to care about any of the characters since at any time, any of the residents could simply walk away, call the cops or move out, but for some reason they all chose to stay and engage in pointless battles with their neighbors to the point of starvation, serious injury or death. The POV characters are a doctor called Lang (Hiddleston’s character), the architect of the high-rise, Royal (Iron’s character) and a film maker called Wilder (Luke Evans I think?). There is entirely too much talk about how bad people smell and Wilder’s wang, which he is way too proud of. The high rise is a pretty obvious metaphor for the rigid class structure of the UK, where people become divided into clans based on the floor they live on and how high up they live. It would make sense except for the overwhelming and unavoidable fact that no one in the high rise has to be there. You can’t exactly call a cab and go stay with your sister when the strictures of entrenched systemic inequality become too much to deal with. While it may make sense, in a twisted kind of way, for the male residents to stay in order to indulge in every desire normally restrained by society, there is no reason for any of the women to stay. They aren’t characters so much as objects to be molested or to cower in fear. What’s in it for them? I know it was 1975, but honestly, does Ballard even know any women?
How you will feel at the end of this godawful book
In short, this book was written by this guy:
which is exactly what I would expect the guy who wrote this book to look like.
He also wrote Crash (so bad) and Empire of the Sun (so good), so apparently you need no less a director than Spielberg to salvage his work. I hope Ben Wheatley is up to the task.