Monday, 23 May 2016

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle has been on my shelves unread for years yet I’m not sure I would have picked it up if it weren’t for book group. Josh had recently started it and given up and I’d seen the Amazon adaptation (which I enjoyed and would recommend even if you didn’t get on with the book).

I think it really helped having an idea of the characters before I started. I can see how most of my book group (and Josh) struggled to get into it. There’s quite a few different characters and it can seem like they are not really connected. The adaptation is pretty different from the book but the characters are essentially the same people.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a book within a book. It is widely available in the Pacific States and the neutral Mountain States but banned in the Nazi ruled East Coast. It tells the story of an alternate history where the Allies won the war, although it isn’t quite the real history either.

There’s not some grand story arc and it’s not particularly dramatic, instead it’s about the lives of everyday people living in a world run by Nazis and Japanese. Frank is a Jew hiding in plain sight with a skill for metalwork and a business idea. Julianna left Frank and San Francisco for the peace of Colorado yet she yearns for a bit of adventure.

Robert Childan is an antiques dealer, specialising in items of Americana for his high profile Japanese customers. He is desperate for recognition, seeing the Japanese as superior and wanting to be accepted into their world. I liked the fact that everyday American items were considered collector’s items now that they weren’t being made. The America that once was has become a novelty.

Mr Tagomi was the character whose story seemed to have been messed with the least in the adaptation. He is a high ranking Japanese trade official, a Buddhist who at times struggles to reconcile his religion with this world he lives in. He crosses paths with Childan when he seeks a gift for a visiting Swedish official, who he believes has come to discuss plastics.

Most of the characters in the story consult the I Ching at some point. I don’t really know much about Taoism but I read the introduction in my edition (after finishing the novel of course) and it made me think that this is rather a clever book even if I didn’t understand all of it. There’s this idea in Tao that the world we perceive is just a fa├žade to another one, perhaps like alternate dimensions.

Philip K. Dick actually used the I Ching to guide him in the plotting of this book. When he got to the point where a character consulted the oracle, he would throw coins and consult the I Ching for answers, using them to decide what the characters would do next. This might also explain its wandering structure, which won’t be for everybody.

I believe I enjoyed this book much more than my fellow book group members but I had a better idea of what to expect having read him before and also being very aware the adaptation was quite different in terms of plotting.

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Book Source: Purchased

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