This novel is set on a future Earth where most of human kind lives a highly artificial life in giant skyscrapers, freeing up the surrounding countryside for food production.
The constraint of living in an enclosed, structured and crowded society has resulted in social customs that include extreme politeness and the free sharing of sexual partners. Fertility is encouraged. Contraception is a sin. Any dissent from the social structure results either psychological reprogramming or in a death sentence – where the offender is hurled down the chute into the furnaces at the base of the towers.
Like the society it depicts, the book is highly structured too, in an interesting way. Each chapter is narrated from the point of view of a different character or couple. And each chapter is almost a short story on its own. (Indeed, initially I thought this was a collection of short stories; but some of the later chapters bring the characters together.) The ending is grim and hopeless.
What I liked about the book:
This was a fantastic and vivid portrait of a possible future world. The beliefs of the high-rise society were really well portrayed in a very sympathetic manner. Different view points are well conveyed. Each narrator had his own distinctive voice – not an easy thing to achieve when presenting the views of members of a highly co-ordinated and homogeneous society.
What I didn’t like about the book:
Now, I am quibbling, because there is little not-to-like in this great book. But, initially published 40 years ago in 1971, some aspects of the world see strangely old-fashioned. For example, the ‘nightwalkers’ of the tower block are men; women wait to be visited. The men have jobs; the women stay at home and look after the children and order the meals.
Having said that, it is amazing how many aspects of this book seem bang up-to-date; the electronic music with light shows, the computer and databases, the requirement to be ‘politically correct’, the intensive farming methods ….
Kindle edition and paperback edition: