Thursday 20 February 2014

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard: First Edition, First Paperback Edition, Book Review, Thoughts on Ben Wheatley's Film Adaptation

NB: Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

When news broke a couple of weeks ago that British film director Ben Wheatley would begin filming an adaptation of J. G. Ballard's High-Rise in June with Tom Hiddleston as his lead, I was prompted to finally pick up and read this:

The British first edition (and first impression) of High-Rise, published in hardback by Jonathan Cape in 1975, dust jacket design by Craig Dodd (who would go on to design the wrapper for the 1979 Cape edition of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, and who earlier designed the wrapper for the 1969 Hodder edition of Richard Stark's The Dame). I bought this copy early last year in Wax Factor in Brighton – a secondhand record shop which also stocks a good selection of secondhand books – for a pretty good price – a fraction of what first editions ordinarily go for (upwards of £100). The jacket is a little worn and stained, and the book was evidently owned by a smoker and, I'd hazard, drinker who apparently nodded off whilst reading it:

but cigarette burns on the pages and stains on the wrapper are kind of in keeping with the nature of the novel, which centres on a 40-storey tower block which becomes gradually more dilapidated as the story unfolds, strewn with rubbish, fag butts, faeces and eventually bodies. And those defects aside, the book is in pretty good nick, although not in as good nick as this:

The British first paperback edition, published by Triad/Panther in 1977, cover art by Chris Foss. I blogged about this copy back in 2010, noting its relative scarcity, and it hasn't become any less scarce since: there are at present no copies on AbeBooks, and just a single copy on Amazon Marketplace (I think; it's often hard to tell which edition sellers are offering on Amazon Marketplace, but there's a paperback copy priced at £8.99 which I believe is the 1977 Panther paperback).

The only Ben Wheatley film I've seen is Kill List (2011), but even on that meagre evidence I can well imagine what he'll do with High-Rise. Ballard's tale of middle class residents of a tower block surrendering to their base desires seems tailor made for the director, especially if he remains reasonably faithful to the book. The way in which the novel's triumvirate of Dr Robert Laing (25th floor, and Hiddleston's character), Richard Wilder (2nd floor) and Anthony Royal (40th floor, and the building's architect) – along with the rest of the high-rise's residents – shun the world outside their walls and follow their curious internal logic to their ultimate debasement in a way reflects the horrific descent into degradation by Jay (Neil Maskell) in Kill List, although the three protagonists' cool detachment and the state of strangely beatific squalor they achieve is uniquely Ballardian (see also Concrete Island, and I'm sure others too). It's an arresting read, and in Wheatley's hands should make for an intriguing film.

1 comment:

  1. Neat, I've never read this one, but I like all the Ballard I've read. I look forward to the film.