Monday 28 July 2014

The Man in the High Castle - Phillip K. Dick

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Phillip K. Dick
Genre: Alternate History
Published: 1962
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a novel which fell under the category of Alternate History and so I decided it was time to finally read “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K Dick which has been sitting on my book shelf for quite a while. The book is set in a world where the Axis forces managed to win WWII and have carved it up between themselves. The plot explores the lives several people living in 1962 United States which has been partitioned by the Germans and Japanese.

I have to start by saying that it is obvious to me that the aim of the book is just to explore the “What If?” question regarding WWII and show its effect on various people rather than giving us any specific narrative. This actually made it hard for me to review, because if you are looking for a story with a defined start and satisfying conclusion then this book is not going to be for you. However, if you are happy to follow an exploration of the individual in a totalitarian society told via a number of vaguely interlinked sub-plots then you will probably find this to be a clever and interesting novel.

Dick does a brilliant job in bringing this world to life, using a huge amount of detail and multiple sub-plots to highlight the various aspects of society. It was quite eye opening to read a book in which the author actually tries to go into the nuances of his world which is something that the more recent young adult focused dystopian novels fail to do.

The biggest issue for me in the novel had to the characters, none of whom I managed to engage with. There is a large mish-mash of individuals and the novel focuses too much on their lives within this new world rather than who they actually are which ensured I didn’t really care about them or what happened. When you add this in to the rather weak overall plotline it could at times feel like a very hard and intellectual read rather than being an enjoyable alternate history novel.

Overall, this is a very clever novel that quite deeply explores one of the world’s favourite “What If?” scenarios regarding a different WWII outcome. It can at times feel almost academic in its form due to the weak characters and rather unsatisfying overall plot but it is still incredibly interesting to follow. I don’t know if I have a read another alternate history novel which so determinedly tries to showcase the multiple facets and elements of the different world that has been created. I fully understand why this book is highly rated in literary circles.


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