I was inspired to read this book after watching some of the Electric Dreams series which is currently on Channel 4 (UK), and is really excellent in case you haven’t seen it, as well as never having read anything by Philip K. Dick but really thinking I should have. I was also intrigued by the premise of this particular book, which imagines that Germany won World War Two and that the world is under Nazi rule.
It became clear very early on in the novel that (a) I loved the book and (b) it is particularly pertinent to today’s political climate:
“The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this? And – how many of us do know it?”
The novel is set in America and told from multiple viewpoints: a Japanese businessman; a Jewish factory worker; an ‘antiques’ seller; a martial arts instructor, a German spy and several others. Gradually we learn how the Germans came to win the war and some of the chilling events that followed this victory. There is also the recurring theme of what could have been had the outcome of the war been different, demonstrated most notably through a book which many of the characters are reading called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which tells the story of reality as we know it in a clever story within a story. It is the quest to discover the author of this book, a recluse rumoured to live in an impenetrable castle, which provides the main narrative of the novel.
What I especially enjoyed about The Man in the High Castle was the humour and hope in what you would expect to be a very dark novel. There were many jokes scattered throughout the narrative, particularly in the idea that the Japanese, who now occupy many prominent positions in American society, are huge collectors of ‘authentic’ American artifacts – there is a hilarious moment when a character presents a German spy with a Mickey Mouse watch, and there is a huge black market in fake goods. Dick also makes many tongue-in-cheek jokes about the Nazis’ incompetence:
“If those Nazis can fly back and forth between here and Mars, why can’t they get television going?”
Despite the atrocities which the Nazis have committed, the novel is still hopeful that humanity will triumph and will continue to do so. Dick examines the relationship between light and dark, hope and despair in a timeless way and many of his lines so accurately describe modern society and the fear that many people feel today:
“The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, to be truly transcendent, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths.”
Dick’s comments on leadership, power, marginalisation, persecution and global warming seem ever so timely, but I think that sadly they will always be relevant in discussing the flaws of humanity.
The ending of the book was suitably strange and, I have a feeling, will divide people over the book – I liked it, my husband didn’t. But I think it’s a novel which is very worth reading and still as relevant now as when it was written. I will definitely be reading more by this author.