I first read this novel after I saw the initial trailer for the Tom Hiddleston movie version a few years back. I liked it fine. But since then, I’ve read a half dozen or more of Ballard’s novels, and all of his short fiction, and I think I have his wavelength (dear god, right?) quite a bit more now. I liked it a lot more the second time.
The novel takes place in a all-inclusive high-rise replete with gyms, grocery stores, and other amenities. If you’ve seen Poltergeist 3 (and why would you?) it might have had this book in mind or they share the same real world analogs. The idea of course is for the well-off to be able to enclose themselves away from the common world. But what ends up happening almost immediately is that a new hierarchy begins to form based on the structures within the building. So where there was supposed to be an elite equality built into the building, it turns into the same stratified society outside. In this building, it just so happens that it involves literal stratification. The higher up you go, the better off you are in social standing. The amenities mostly don’t change, except that in the parking lot, the higher your apartment, the close your space, as if to cancel out the amount of time you have to spend in the elevators getting home. But even that is offset by the super fast elevators that skip the first thirty floors available to those residents. And where rich people feel like they’re not getting something, they revolt.
The story is a combination of Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies in terms of plotting, but mostly there’s no plot. The plot is merely the narration of decay.