The Man in the High Castle: a Book Review

I seem to be on a bit of a roll at the moment with book 2 of my Birthday and Christmas book pile done and my definitely not a resolution plan to finish all of those books before buying a new one on track.

It is back to non-fiction for my next book with Testosterone Rex, chosen for me by my parents (read Mum) and not something I might have chosen for myself so I am looking forward to diving in and seeing what it has in store.

Before I head into book 3, I need to review book 2, The Man in High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This was a book I had requested, having wanted to read it for a while, and as you will probably guess from the start, I’m more than a little disappointed.

The Man in the High Castle

My rating: ⭐️⭐️

I love the idea of alternative history. I love the idea of altering the outcome of one or more pivotal points in history and playing with the potential consequences. The world we have around us today is the result of countless individual events which all lined up in a particular way, and the smallest of changes could have dramatic consequences.

I don’t think I am spoiling anything to say this single changed event idea is the key to Dick’s alternate reality where Germany and Japan were the victors in the Second World War. The thought experiment of what would have happened to the world should such a victory have occurred is right up my alley and one of the main reasons I wanted to read The Man in the High Castle. Sadly, I have been left disappointed by what to me felt at best a mediocre novel.

Set in 1962, fifteen years after the fictional end of World War 2, The Man in the High Castle tells the, to me at least, unnecessarily convoluted story of loosely connected people trying to live in a world dominated by the two powers, Japan and Germany. Even accounting for the novel being of its time (some of the language used is pretty offensive, but in a way fits with what I imagine a Nazi-dominated world would be like), the book feels dated, the characters are dull and, frankly, nothing much really happens.

Given Amazon keep pumping out series after series of the TV adaption of the book, I assume they have found a way to make it more interesting. Otherwise I cannot quite see why people keep going back to it time and again.

What I really liked

  1. This was a difficult one as I did not really like anything in the book, but if you insist I have to say something positive, the premise was still a good one and could have created a really rich and interesting world. Unfortunately, I don’t think Dick managed it.

The less good bits

  1. Top of my list has to be the characters. They felt like nothing more than 2D cut outs of people who appeared to learn nothing from the events of the book or the part they played in them. Even the most dramatic of events seem to be quickly forgotten or brushed over, while the only character coming close to experiencing development (Tagomi) ends up going back to his desk as if nothing has happened.
  2. The plot seems unnecessarily curtailed at points. Characters are arrested in an apparently brutal dictatorship before being released a couple of pages later without a scratch, potentially exciting fight scenes are over in a paragraph, while some of the story is just left entirely open ended. I understand Dick had always planned a sequel but it was never finished, and that is fine, but to me a book should not rely solely on a sequel for closure. It should be able to wrap up most of the threads itself while teasing at more to come. For me The Man in the High Castle fails in this regard.
  3. The writing style began to grate on me after only a few pages. Many of the characters are non-native English speakers speaking English in the story, and because of this, Dick often uses broken English to convey they are non-native speakers. What it took me to nearly the end of the book to realise, they also think in broken English! To me, a character would think in their own language and this would be translated into English by the author. To have them thinking as well as speaking broken English felt wrong.
  4. Large parts of the book are just pretentious drivel, long, convoluted sections of character’s thoughts which felt like they were lifted from a first year psychology student essay.
  5. Finally (and I will stop here or I risk going on for a long time), while I love the premise of the book, it felt like Dick had failed to do justice to the potential of the world he was creating. Essentially it feels like America with Japanese bureaucracy overseeing what is otherwise an unaltered world. Of all the things Dick could have done with the novel, it appears middle managers were the most exciting thing he could think of…

Summary

As I have said above I was really disappointed with The Man in the High Castle. With Philip K. Dick’s reputation and the obvious success of the TV series I expected something brilliant. There is a chance I set my expectations too high and simply feel let down, but I don’t think so. I don’t think I can quite bring myself to recommend people do not read The Man in the High Castle (after all it is a modern classic) but I am very close.

If you are a fan of Dick’s you have probably read High Castle already, but on the off chance you haven’t you might want to give this a go. For the rest of you, I’d give it a miss, there are so many better books out there to occupy your time!

Have you read The Man in the High Castle or got it on the TBR pile? Did you love it or loath it? Am I being too harsh here? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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