Robert Laing is recently divorced, and moves into an apartment in a tower block on the outskirts of London, close to where he works as a doctor and lecturer. It is packed with all the latest conveniences that a modern Londoner needs; swimming pools, shops, supermarkets and restaurants within its four high walls. Residents need not leave the comfort of their new residence.
It doesn’t take long for him to settle in, finding friends on the different floors with similar interests and outlooks. But things start to change; the residents become uninterested in the outside world preferring to remain within their new world., and this insular perspective starts to breed trouble and violence as minor incidents become major ones as neighbours and then whole floors gang up on one another. The lower, middle and upper floors eventually join into three distinct groups, parallel with the class divisions in society, and the skirmishes descend into outright violence.
Ballard has taken society and compressed it into the limits of a forty story tower block and let them loose. What could have been paradise and a comfortable way of life is suddenly a modern hell. It comes across as similar to the Lord of the Flies, where a fragile existence falls apart rapidly. It is a grim tale; a dystopian novel that show just how rapidly a small number of humans can descend into chaos and horror. There were some parts that I liked about this, for example it has a great first line, but it is chilling the way that the tower block descends in to raw primitive terror. 2.5 stars overall.