16 December 2015

Audiobook Review: The Man in the High Castle

Image source: Audible
Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Year of publishing: 1962
I listened to: Audiobook by Brilliance Audio
Narrated by: Jeff Cummings

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

I streamed The Man in the High Castle on Audible, and it took me about two weeks to finish it. And while for the most part I enjoyed both the story and the narration, I have to say I was a little disappointed.

Cummings, I thought, did a very good job narrating this book. Aside from having a voice that's nice to listen to, he gave great performances, portraying very diverse characters in this book. While I found his German and Japanese accents comical at first, I then got used to them.

So much about the narration. What about the story? The idea behind the book is brilliant. The plot is interesting and intriguing. I like the idea of people relying on the I Ching to make the right decisions for them.

But my favourite part of the book is The Grasshopper Lies Heavy - a science fiction novel written by Hawthorne Abendsen, the book's titular character, in which he depicts an alternate reality where the Allies have won WWII. This "novel within a novel" concept is mind-bending and trippy and I love it.

Come to think of it, the whole book is a little trippy. To be completely honest, I didn't even understand the ending. I had to Google the explanation. There's a recurring theme in the book about what's real and what's fake, authenticity vs. forgery. And as the story progresses, this conflict between what's real and what isn't escalates. Now, I didn't catch up on that until after I've had the ending so graciously explained to me.

And while I loved the ambiguous and trippy parts, I can't say I liked the book. The story is interesting, the conflicts are full of tension. But I didn't care about any of the characters. I liked them, but it didn't matter what would happen to them. It felt like they were only there to move the story along.

Dick has missed a few great opportunities with this book. For instance, in this occupied USA, the African American population has been forced into slavery again. So far we have seen the world through the eyes of a Japanese official, a white store owner, a Jewish man hiding from the Gestapo under a fake name, and his ex-wife, who is also white. Just think how much more interesting the book would have been if at least one of the characters, one of the players in the story were black. We would have seen this world from a whole new perspective.

Final words: while some parts and ideas in this book were great, I just didn't like it very much. Even after good people on the Internet have explained the ending to me.

I'll give it a solid 3 stars.

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