Tomorrow is another day

Cover of Gone with the windOne of my favourite books has a poor reputation in some quarters. I read this book in my teens and it contains a story and a character that has stayed with me. Due to this I have decided not to reread it as an adult as I fear I would view it very differently. The book was Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Many now think of Gone with the Wind as is a romance which was reinforced by the movie that concentrated on the Rhett Butler/ Ashley Wilkes/ Scarlett O’Hara angle.

The book is actually much darker. In the book you get to access the selfish thoughts and obsessions of Scarlett’s mind. For example the Scarlett O’Hara of the novel refuses Rhett Butler access to her bedroom as she wants to maintain her 17inch waist. She largely ignores the three children she has (one to each husband which is left out of the movie) and fixates on the husband of one of her closest friends. So what is it about this book and more importantly the book’s heroine that stays with me?

When I look back as an adult I can see her as a manipulative, racist, wannabe adulteress who betrays both friends and family. Yet to my teenage self all I could see was a woman who lived through an awful reversal of fortune to become a successful business woman having refused to conform to behavioral restraints. She was a survivor in the face of every opposition. What could be more appealing to a teenage girl or to me even now?

In the end she may or may not have lost the man of her dreams but despite this she picks herself up again and fights on. People may only remember the lines of Rhett Butler at the end of the movie as “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn” but I prefer to remember the book where the emphasis is on Scarlett when she stands up and declares “Tomorrow is another day”.

She remains determined despite everything she has endured. The fact she is flawed on so many levels makes her relatable and the fact she remains undefeated makes her inspirational. In all she is not a bad heroine for a teenage girl or a grown woman to have.

Conspicuous consumption

For me holidays are always an opportunity to consume, not merely Christmas dinner leftovers and far too many Ferrero Rochers, but also culture. The books, movies and TV shows I haven’t had time for during the year get their chance over the festive break. It’s always a struggle, of course. There’s simply too much to get through.

So how did I do this year? Not too badly actually. Here’s what I managed to cram into a week and a half of public holidays and annual leave.

Movies

I made a real effort this year to grab a bunch of movies I was curious about but never got around to watching. Results were patchy.

  • Housebound – I’d heard good things about this Kiwi horror-comedy and they weren’t wrong. High on the creepy factor but plenty of laughs too. Haunted house meets awkward mother-daughter dynamic. Highly recommended.
  • Spirited Away – Critically acclaimed Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. I’ve never really been into anime and this movie didn’t change my mind. Just a bit too weird and fantastical for me.
  • Never Let Me Go – I really like Carey Mulligan but when the other two points of a love triangle are Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, I’m going to struggle. A beautiful film to look at (if you like the colour brown) but quite slow paced. Do not watch if you’re in a bad mood already, as it’s a bit of a downer (based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro).

A selection of DVDs

  • They Came Together – I really, really wanted to like this. I’m a massive Amy Poehler fan and I adore Paul Rudd but this attempt to subvert the cliches and tropes of the rom-com failed to hit the mark. I couldn’t help thinking this would have worked brilliantly as an SNL sketch, but just couldn’t stretch to a whole film. Some fun moments but not enough of them, unfortunately.
  • Turbo Kid – Canadian/NZ co-production that had a lot of buzz at last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. A retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, BMXs, extreme cheesiness, that guy off McLeod’s Daughters, and what must have been an absolutely massive fake blood budget. What’s not to love? With knowing nods to everything from Soylent Green, to Mad Max and Cherry 2000, this pastiche/homage to sci-fi was a lot of fun to watch (though sometimes through your fingers because INTESTINES).

Television

  • cover of The White Queen The White Queen – On a whim, for a bit of escapism I started watching this series based on Philipa Gregory’s historical novels The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter and ended binge-watching the whole thing. It covers the turbulent period during which the houses of York and Lancaster were battling for the throne of England, the War of the Roses. It begins with King Edward IV falling for a fetching Lancastrian widow and portrays the power grabs, manipulations and betrayals of his reign and beyond. It was this period of history that inspired George R. R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire novels and this series is similar, in bloodiness, intrigue, and, er, nudity. Not a bad substitute until the next season of Game of Thrones turns up (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Books

  • Cover of Truths, half truths & little white lies: A memoirTruths, half truths & little white lies: A memoir by Nick Frost – Often memoirs of famous people give you the impression that from a young age they were destined for stardom and great things. Nick Frost’s book has you marvelling that he managed to leave the house, let alone have a successful career, what with all the drugs and not being very confident and having a traumatic upbringing. It’s the story of an ordinary man who has struggles and demons just like everybody else and not in a “oh, I’ll just book into The Priory for a bit of rehab, dahling”, showing off kind of way, but the unglamorous “everything’s gone a bit terrible” way. This made me want to read Simon Pegg’s Nerd do well again and compare flatting anecdotes.
  • Concrete Park vol 2 – More violence, betrayal and sci-fi adventures on a prison planet. Waiting not very patiently for volume 3.

So how did you do over the break? Get a few titles ticked off your To Read (or To Watch) list?

If you like… Star Wars

Star Wars DayLess than two weeks to go until Star Wars Day at Central Library Peterborough and then The Force Awakens hits our screens!

If you’re super excited and want something to stop the gap until showtime, how about picking up one of the many books in the Star Wars franchise? I know culturally we tend to look down on tie-in novels (and to be fair some are less than stellar), but most Star Wars books I’ve read have been well-written and tightly plotted.

As a bonus the Star Wars universe is so large that you can pick up a book on a variety of topics. Want to know how the Millennium Falcon is put together? Try the Owner’s Workshop Manual! Want to read the Star Wars trilogy as Shakespeare plays? Start with Verily, A New Hope! And if you want some thrilling fiction then you’ve got a wealth of reading ahead of you.
So where to begin?

Star Wars fiction

Try one of the prolific Star Wars authors or have a look at my Star Wars reading list:

As well as these tried and true authors there are quite a few new Star Wars fiction titles to tempt you too. If you’re not sure where to start with all these novel options give this post from Tor.com “Where to Begin with Star Wars Books” a read first.

Star Wars non-fiction

If that’s not your cup of tea then try some Star Wars-adjacent books like My Best Friend is a Wookiee or the autobiographies of Carrie Fisher (otherwise known as Princess Leia), or try something different again with:

Books for younglings

What about if you’re too young to remember seeing A New Hope at the cinema? You’re in luck, there’s been an influx of Star Wars books aimed at kids and they’re all available at your local library.

Any favourites I’ve missed?

A Blessed life

Cover of Absolute PandemoniumBritish actor Brian Blessed is a force of nature. Everything about him is big, robust, and gung-ho. He’s a boys’ own adventure wrapped in facial hair.

His autobiography, Absolute Pandemonium, is everything you would expect from such a singular creature – full of ripping yarns, scrapes, scraps, and quite a lot of swearing. Oh yes, the language is quite colourful in places.

By any measure Blessed has had an extraordinary life. From humble beginnings in a mining town in South Yorkshire he’s had a career that has seen him steadily employed (when he wasn’t too busy climbing Mount Everest) for over 50 years. He’s appeared in everything from Blackadder and I, Claudius to Flash Gordon and Much Ado About Nothing. And he’s got a few stories to tell, some of which might actually be true.

To give you a bit of insight into what Absolute Pandemonium is like, I thought I’d share a few descriptions of famous people Blessed has met, loved and worked with over the years –

On Peter O’Toole:

Peter O’Toole wasn’t just a man of extremes; he was the man of extremes: Lord Byron with a knuckle-duster, love.

On Prime Minister Harold Mcmillan:

…he was about as animated as a curling stone, though seemed to move slightly slower.

On Orson Welles:

He seemed to be about the size of a rhino. Absolutely enormous, he was, and smoking a cigar that looked more like a log.

On Katharine Hepburn:

Boudicca in slacks

On Geneviève Bujold:

She was effervescent, naughty and very, very beautiful.

On meeting legendary Hollywood producer, Dino De Laurentiis for the first time:

He greeted me warmly, like a long-lost son.

‘Who the hell are you and wada-you-want-a?’

On Timothy Dalton:

Tim’s an incredibly handsome man and looked just like Errol Flynn in the film. A bit of rough compared to me, of course, but he definitely has something.

And finally, on his own good self:

Now, if I ever had to choose one word to describe myself, in addition to virile, sensual, intriguing, dainty, elegant and of course sensitive, it would have to be tenacious.

Definitely recommended for fans of the man himself or the people he’s worked with to get the inside (though possibly exaggerated) story on what they were like – honestly the section on O’Toole is rivetting.

To be honest, towards the end I was a bit over all the anecdotes in which Blessed’s tremendous actorly insight saved the day but I’ll forgive him because if you can’t skite a bit on your own memoir, when can you? It’s also extremely funny and I was hooting with laughter within the first few pages so I can forgive Blessed a bit of ego stroking.

What are your thoughts on Mr Blessed? Delightfully madcap or too much like a foghorn for polite company? I suspect both…

High Fives at South Learning Centre

A few wee things to celebrate at South Learning Centre.
Ep9 Trigger

HNN (Hillmorton Network News) finished off their year in style. I am so proud of their film and media progress, learning and confidence. The students presented to their Year 7/8 peer group. This was very nerve wracking for them with over 100 pairs of eyes scrutinizing them. This was followed by them presenting to school staff – who fired many questions at them ranging from their cross-over learning into other areas, what new skills they learned, and where could their skills take them?

Look out for HNN 2016!

HNN Episode 7

HNN Episode 8

HNN Episode 9

HNN Episode 10

HNN Episode 11

The second celebration is for Beckenham Centennial Film School. This was a hugely successful experience working alongside Beckenham School learning all about their 100 year history. We discovered some great stories of the past, devastating details of the fire and some exciting plans for the future of Beckenham.

Beckenham of Old

Beckenham Now

Beckenham Fire

Future Beckenham

In our Learning Centre, students experience eLearning programmes aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum document. These programmes provide learning in a technology-rich environment and the teaching within these programmes keep abreast with the latest teaching philosophies and strategies.

If you are interested in working with us to tailor an existing programme or work alongside us  please contact us Tel: 941 5140 or  Learningcentre@ccc.govt.nz

 

In a library far, far away…

Are you counting down the days until The Force Awakens hits our screens? Is one month too long to wait? Your pain we at Central Library Peterborough feel!

Star Wars Day

In anticipation of the movie release we have organised a Star Wars Day on Saturday December 12th, so if you enjoy dressing up — or even if you don’t — do come along and enjoy our wide variety of Star Wars themed activities and competitions for the chance to win some great prizes.

Star Wars toys and memorabilia
Star Wars toys and memorabilia at Central Library Peterborough, Flickr File reference: 2015-11-16-IMG_0627

We’ve already got books, DVDs, and memorabilia on display, fiercely protected by Princess Leia. We’re still finalising the details of what should be an awesome afternoon, so if you have any special requests or ideas then please help us: you’re our only hope.

And if you find those droids please send them our way too.

In the meantime, re-watch old episodes and enjoy the massive range of Star Wars library items we have to offer! I’m settling in for a Machete order screening this coming weekend.

Pressured Viewing

Woman of the Year publicity photograph
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, Wikimedia Commons
Once upon a time there was ‘The Movie’.  I’ve  never tried to work out how many hours I’ve spent watching them (the hours lost that can never be regained), but as a child/stroppy teenager I would slump down in a chair on a Saturday afternoon at around 3pm to watch the Saturday afternoon matinee.

It would greatly annoy my Dad (extra kudos for me playing the bolshy ‘teen’ card), as he had just purchased his first Colour television set and there I was making a mockery of it all by watching Black and White 1930s and 1940s classics.

Eventually a mockery of a compromise was reached – the kids got the old telly and bickered and argued between themselves for viewing rights whilst the ‘Head of the Household’ watched uninterrupted colourful sport…

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, Wikimedia Commons
Edith Head fashion, sumptuous sets, orchestrated Busby Berkeley choreographed extravanzas all in Black and White!!  Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Van Heflin, John Wayne, Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn (I could continue ad nauseam but will give you all a break!).  It was fantastic.

Fast forward countless years and we have, yet again, ‘The Movie’ – normally taken out of the library for one week.  No problem, you would think – given my amazing ability of yesteryear, I could watch the one film countless times – but NO!!  Invariably I receive the email gently reminding me that the DVD has to be returned to the library in the next 2/3 days and panic ensues as I haven’t even had time to read the synopsis on the back of the DVD cover.

The number of films and TV series I have had to return without even inserting them into the DVD machine…  But now, especially with regard to a TV series, I have a longer time frame to play with:

Two Whole Weeks!!

The Bridge season 2 Kim Bodnia as Martin Sofia Helin as Saga Photo Carolina Romare 2012 (8724803961)
The Bridge season 2: Kim Bodnia as Martin, Sofia Helin as Saga, Photo Carolina Romare 2012, Wikipedia Commons
Until very recently I was watching  TV series on DVD such as the Danish production of The Bridge, Shetland, Parade’s End, and Desperate Romantics under immense pressure – two or three episodes a night so that I could return them, haggard and red-eyed, back to the shelves having gone through 3, 4 or even sometimes 5 DVDs in the set.

Times they are a-changing…  I’ve even been known to watch in Colour.

Long ago, in a rapidly expanding galaxy, far, far away

Prepare yourselves. From this point on things are going to get increasingly Star Wars-y.

My meaning is two-fold.

Star Wars Reads day First, the official annual celebration of Star Wars and reading, Star Wars Reads Day is tomorrow. Shirley Library is playing host to a day of fun and activities and even some special Star Wars guests. It should be fun so if you’re a fan or have one in the family you should consider heading along.

Second, a new Star Wars movies is scheduled for release just before Christmas. On 17 December Episode VII: The Force Awakens (hits cinemas). Expect to see A LOT of merch in the shops between now and Christmas.

The Force Awakens is the first of the Star Wars movies to be made by Disney rather than Lucasfilm, and kicks off another trilogy (the third) in the scifi space saga. But that’s not all because some standalone films are planned, and then there’s the TV series’ and… you know what? Let’s make a nice list of these things. This is starting to feel like that time I tried to explain the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Long ago, in the seventies and eighties…

Cover of The making of Star WarsThe original Star Wars trilogy comprised of –

George Lucas had always envisaged his rollicking space yarn as the middle segment of a much broader tale but I can imagine people in 1977 being confused and wondering whether they’d somehow missed the first 3 instalments. For much of my young life I believed, somewhat despondently, that these would be the only Star Wars films ever made. Boy, was I wrong about that…

A new millennium (falcon)

Cover of Star Wars Episode I The Phantom menaceIn the meantime George Lucas and crew got busy making the first part of the story, in the process inventing, or at least popularising, the word “prequel”.

An animated series “Star Wars: Clone Wars” aired on the Cartoon Network (and online) between 2003-2005 and bridged the gap between episodes II and III.

I hoped at this point that this was the end of Star Wars viewing opportunities. Boy, was I wrong about that…

Interregnum

Cover of The Clone Wars episode guideAfter the dust had settled a bit, Lucasfilm, capitalising on the derring-do aspect of the pre-Sith Anakin Skywalker character, and the success of the Clone Wars series made another animated series set between episodes II and III called, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I did say this was a bit confusing.

A very Disney future

Cover of Star Wars Rebels the visual guideIn 2012 The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm and all the rights to Lucasfilm properties including Star Wars. Disney got into the swing of things Star Wars with their own animated television series set between episodes III and IV.

But they more famously committed to a new trilogy of Star Wars films –

However, there’s also a Star Wars anthology series of stand-alone films. A trilogy of films that exist in the same Star Wars universe but are unrelated stories.

  • Rogue One (2016) – Set between episodes III and IV, so before the original 1977 Star Wars film, the plot revolves around a band of resistance fighters stealing the plans to a huge Death Star battle station. Production is currently underway.
  • Untitled Han Solo film (2018) – Set between episodes III and IV but before Rogue One, this film will have a youthful Han Solo so definitely not Harrison Ford.
  • Untitled third film (2019) – Your guess is as good as mine. No details on this one yet.

So we’re pretty much going to have a new Star Wars movie every year for the rest of this decade. Depending on your inclination this either makes you feel tired or really, really excited. If you’re the latter we have literally hundreds of Star Wars items in our catalogue.

May the books be with you!

Cover of The making of Star Wars Revenge of the SithCover of Star Wars absolutely everything you need to knowCover of Star Wars the ultimate action figure collectionCover of Star Wars wheres science meets imaginationCover of Star Was the complete visual dictionaryCover of The secret life of droids

Read the book – then see the film

There are a number of interesting literary adaptations coming up. Some are from bestsellers, some from well-reviewed literary novels, and some from novels that may get a second life if the screen adaptation does well.

Cover of Steve JobsAs far as nonfiction goes, timing is everything and often the interest has slackened off by the time the film is released. Will big numbers turn out for a biography of Steve Jobs? A 2013 effort with Ashton Kutcher playing him didn’t make much impact. Now Britain’s Danny Boyle is directing an adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography which may be more likely to succeed with Michael Fassbender as Jobs and a cast that includes Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet.
See IMDb record for Steve Jobs.

Cover of InfernoOn the fiction front it’s hard to get excited by more Virginia Andrews adaptations (made for TV) and the latest Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno, with Tom Hanks out to solve more theological conspiracy theories.
See IMDb record for Inferno.

There are, however, a number of very good fiction books I’ve read and can only hope that these ones translate well to the screen:

Cover of The Yellow BirdsThe excellent 2012 novel The yellow birds by Kevin Powers is a powerful depiction of war with a young veteran of the Iraq conflict who has to deal with what he has experienced. The central character is played by Will Poulter with Benedict Cumberbatch as his sergeant.
See IMDb record for The Yellow Birds.

Cover of Billy Lynn's long halftime walkWar is also the feature of Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk in which the title character is a young soldier who has to endure a victory tour with the soldiers expected to play along. A new name –  Joe Alwyn – plays Billy Lynn with Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker and Steve Martin also cast.
See IMDb record for Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk.

Cover of The revised fundamentals of caregivingThe revised fundamentals of caregiving is Jonathan Evison’s 2012 novel about a father who loses his children and his marriage and enrols in the nightclass of the title and becomes the carer for a boy with muscular dystrophy. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Ehle lead the cast.
See IMDb record for The revised fundamentals of caregiving.

Cover of HHhHLaurent Binet’s HHhH is a grim tale and who better to be doing grim but Rosamund Pike who plays an aristocratic woman who introduces her husband to Nazi ideology. The book, a Prix Goncourt winner in France, deals with the meteoric ascension of Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ who was assassinated by two Resistance paratroopers.
See IMDb record for HHhH.

Cover of The girl with all the giftsM.R. Carey’s The girl with all the gifts is a dystopian tale in which most of humanity is wiped out by a fungal infection and those left are at the mercy of zombies or “the hungries.” Colm McCarthy, who has directed a lot of recent TV such as Peaky blinders, has a cast that includes Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close. The film title will be titled She who brings gifts.
See IMDb record for She who brings gifts.

Cover of Dan Leno and the Limehouse GolemPeter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem is an interesting tale that came out in 1994 and had Dan Leno, a celebrated music hall comedian in Victorian London, drawn into investigating a murder in the parts of the city. Alan Rickman and Olivia Cooke lead the cast of this intriguing tale which has been simply titled The Limehouse Golem.
See IMDb record for The Limehouse Golem.

Cover of Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar childrenRansom Riggs had a quite original hit with his YA novel Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children, a story about a boy who, after a family tragedy, sets out for a Welsh orphanage. The book was originally intended to be a picture book as the author had collected photographs from various archives. Who better to direct this strange tale than Tim Burton who has an interesting cast including Asa Butterfield as the boy, Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Terence Stamp and Judi Dench.
See IMDb record for Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children.

Cover of KBOJonathan Smith’s The Churchill secret: KBO is a fascinating fictionalised fact novel about Winston Churchill in the 1950s when he suffered a serious stroke and his wife Clementine and others worked to bring him back to health. Michael Gambon plays Churchill with Lindsay Duncan as his wife. The film title will be called Churchill’s secret.
See IMDb record for Churchill’s secret.

Cover of Alone in BerlinHans Fallada’s novel Alone in Berlin originally appeared in German in 1947 and was later translated and became a bestseller. It is a fictionalised account of the lives of Otto and Elise Hampel whose son dies in France, leading them to mount a campaign against the Nazis. The film version has Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson as the couple and Daniel Bruhl as the German officer trying to track them down.
See IMDb record for Alone in Berlin.

Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been adapted to memorable psychological thrillers on the screen. Her novel Carol was a departure from the mystery genre and the film version with Cate Blanchett should be opening here soon. The latest adaptation of one of her thrillers is The blunderer being retitled for the screen as A kind of murder with Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson.
See IMDb record for A kind of murder.

Cover of A monster callsA monster calls is the Patrick Ness novel that he wrote, based on an idea by author Siobhan Dowd who was dying of cancer and unable to write the book herself. An extraordinary tale that is both dark and touching at the same time, the film, a British/Spanish production has Liam Neeson as the monster, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Geraldine Chaplin with filming done in Spain and Yorkshire.
See IMDb record for A Monster calls.

On the local market the works of Barry Crump are returning to the screen with an adaptation of his 1986 novel Wild pork and watercress. Sadly, the title is now out of print. I contacted the publishers and they said they no longer hold the rights which reverted to the Crump estate. Hoepfully the film, titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople, will be successful enough to get the book back in print. The film, directed by Taika Waititi, has a big local cast including Stan Walker, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby and Oscar Kightley.
See IMDb record for Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Cover of Me and Earl and the dying girlMe and Earl and the dying girl by Jesse Andrews came about when the author was writing novels for adults that were going nowhere. When it was suggested to him that he might try the teenage market he gave it a go and off it went. The story, about a teenage boy pushed by his mother to befriend a girl with cancer, came out when a certain other novel about a girl with cancer was about to conquer the world. The film was a huge success at the last Sundance Festival and it is about to give John Green a run for his money.
See IMDb record for Me and Earl and the dying girl.

Philip Tew
Selection and Access Team, Content

High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s vertical zoo

Cover of High riseI have to confess that the only reason I picked up J. G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of inevitable social decline in a well-to-do apartment block was because I’d read an article about the movie version due out later this year starring Tom Hiddleston.

I’d watch Tom Hiddleston in anything, so I figured I’d read the book before the movie comes out. And in my own mind I think I was already imagining an action movie with a British Bruce Willis before I even cracked the cover of the book. Which was a bit silly, really. Having read J. G. Ballard before I should have realised he is not Michael Crichton. His books, though they may have action, are not the “novel as screenplay” blockbuster variety. They are rather more harrowing than that.

High-rise follows three main protagonists, all of whom live in a new high-rise apartment block in London which is populated by nice, reasonably well off types – studio technicians and air hostesses, tax consultants, dentists, book reviewers, and doctors. The children are clean and well-fed, the furnishings are aggressively tasteful.

Naturally we should expect things to take a turn for the worse, but Ballard lets us know from the very first sentence where this is all going –

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.

Which is possibly one of the best opening lines of a novel I’ve ever read but if you’ve got better ones I’m sure you’ll share them in the comments.

Robert Laing is a divorced doctor and med school academic who lives in the middle sector of the building, on the 25th floor. The other two main characters are Anthony Royal, the architect of the high-rise who lives in a penthouse on the 40th, and Richard Wilder a documentary filmmaker who lives with his wife and two sons on a lower floor. They each represent one of the social strata that the apartment block separates into once “hostilities” begin. I suspect the names “Royal” and “Wilder” are not accidents.

Needless to say dog-barbeques are far from the worst thing that occurs within confines of the apartment building over several months. As often happens in dystopian fiction society recreates itself, evolving and changing, with barbarism becoming the lingua franca. It’s Mad Max made of concrete.

Without knowing it, he had constructed a gigantic vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked above each other. All the events of the past few months made sense if one realised that these brilliant and exotic creatures had learned to open the doors.

Cover of Lord of the FliesOr perhaps High-rise is an urban Lord of the Flies but instead of being marooned the inhabitants of the island simply refuse to leave. In this respect the book reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted in which wannabe novelists are “trapped” in a theatre as part of a writers’ retreat. They can leave any time they like but won’t, even as food becomes scarce. They all become monstrous in pursuit of survival… and the great story that will make them bestselling authors.

In the high-rise survival is down to luck, tribal alliances, force of will, or as Wilder discovers –  actually being the fittest.

…the higher up the building he climbed, the worse the physical condition of the residents – hours on the gymnasium exercycles had equipped them for no more than hours on the gymnasium exercycles.

That passage was the closest I came to a laugh during the book, and it came in the form of a wry chuckle. The problem with Ballard is much the same issue I have with Palahniuk actually – none of his characters are especially likeable.

Some authors can take an unsympathetic character and let you live in their skin to the extent that their likeability isn’t important – you empathise with them regardless. You care what happens to them despite their flaws. In High-rise I felt like everyone was a brutal lunatic and I wanted to be rid of them as soon as possible. In the end I just wanted the book to be over so I could share my headspace with normal non-dog-eating individuals.

The saving grace of the book, for me at least, was a small section at the back, an interview with the author. As anyone who’s read the book, or seen the film of Empire of the Sun will know, Ballard’s family were living in Shanghai during WWII when the Japanese invaded and he spent several years in an internment camp. In the interview he reveals how this experience of observing a society shaken to pieces influenced him, and which ultimately comes out in High-rise. –

I suppose one of the things I took from my wartime experiences was that reality was a stage set. The reality that you took for granted – the comfortable day-to-day life, school, the home where one lives, the familiar street and all the rest of it, the trips to the swimming pool and the cinema – was just a stage set. They could be dismantled overnight, which they literally were when the Japanese occupied Shanghai and turned our lives upside down.

Though the writing is elegant and sharp I can’t say that I actually enjoyed High-rise. It remains to be seen whether the film version will “Hollywood-ise” the novel to make it more palatable to a broader audience who might actually like to see Tom Hiddleston climbing elevator shafts in a singlet. I for one would welcome it.