I knew of Philip K. Dick, and of the premise of The Man in the High Castle, but hadn’t put two and two together until I found a copy and proceeded to read the blurb.
As many of you will know, Dick’s 1963 Hugo Award winning novel is based on an alternate reality in which the Allies lost World War II. As a result, Japan and Germany have emerged as the world’s superpowers caught in a cold war – Japan controls the Pacific States of America, whilst Germany possesses Eastern America, with the Rocky Mountain States acting as a neutral buffer zone between the two. The novel focuses on daily life under fascist rule, and “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”, a book written by Abendsen, otherwise known as the “man in the high castle”. It is banned by the Germans for detailing a world in which the Allies won WWII, but widely read in the P.S.A and the neutral zone.
Far from being a character driven novel, The Man in the High Castle is about “what if?” What if the Allies did lose the war, what if we were forced to live under totalitarian rule, what if there was an alternative to the reality we thought we knew? As such, to describe the narrative proves somewhat difficult – it is infused with subversive cultural ideas, mismatched characters and an almost lack-lustre dramatic arc that is nevertheless compelling. Make no mistake, Frank, Tagomi, Joe, Juliana and all the other characters do not serve an emotional purpose; they are not intended to grab the reader by the throat, but to voice dissent, disquiet, and the downright unthinkable, under the new order of the world in which they exist.
The Man in the High Castle is a fascinating read, but in truth a sometimes difficult one owing to Dick’s unusual style of writing – it is almost note-like in its syntax. Providing you get over the initial shock of this, the novel is a goldmine of cultural relations, a lesson in how history stands on a knife’s edge, and how a single idea can resonate beyond all expectations.