Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Man in the High Castle CoverThe Man in the High Castle is a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. It is an alternate history novel, set in the 1960s in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War. This novel won the Hugo award when it was released, and is the novel that first made Dick famous, and is considered by many to be his finest work.

This is the first book that I have read from Philip K. Dick, an author whom I have been intending to read for quite some time. He is simply too famous a science fiction autuhor for me to not at least try one of his novels, and I am glad that I finally did. Had the choice been up to me, I might have opted to start with his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, having happened to come across that novel’s title more frequently than this one’s, but as this was the one set on my uni course, this is the one that I read now.

The first thing that must be noted on is how, in my above characterisation of the novel, I made no mention of the plot of the novel. This is because the plot is secondary in this novel. Not only is it more driven by the exploration of its central characters, what plot there is seems to be there to allow the reader to explore the setting and world of the novel. This it does well. This is not to say that the plot is bad–the plot is quite engaging, in fact–just that it doesn’t carry the novel.

The world, then. I find the world Dick has created to be utterly fascinating and engaging, and impressively well thought out. It was a pleasure to read more about, and I think it is definitely well written enough to carry the novel. What I find particularly impressive about the worldbuilding, is that Dick didn’t focus solely on the facts of how the world is different, but also on the relationship between the cultures: the complicated social structure in the Eastern United States between the Japanese and the Americans was a pleasure to read about.

The characters in the novel were equally well written. Despite the fact that Dick’s multiple points of view characters often oppose each othe in what they want, Dick manages to make the reader understand each character well enough for the reader to sympathise with all of them. One reason for Dick’s ability to do this is, in my opinion, Dick’s skill in representing a mind in turmoil–a characterisation that fits all characters in the story at one point or another.

When reading literary fiction (a genre category I would apply to this novel), however, the most important aspect for me is whether that novel leaves me thinking about its themes and topics after I have put the book down. This test The Man in the High Castle passes with flying colours. It is clear that the world Dick represents in his novel reflects and comments on our world, but exactly in what way it does that is more complicated. I’ve thought long about it already, but I feel like there is much more still to be unravelled. The intriguing difficulty of this is due no doubt to the intense metafictional commentary running throughout the book, a topic that I particularly like reading about.

I really enjoyed The Man in the High Castle. If you are like me and like to read engaging character studies set in interesting places, then I think you will also like The Man in the High Castle. If, however, you are the type of reader who relies on an engaging plot to keep you reading, then I don’t think that you will enjoy this novel.

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