Lauren's Reviews > VALIS

VALIS by Philip K. Dick
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's review
Apr 22, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: old

Oh my. What to say about VALIS? This is the most deeply personal book that Dick ever wrote. It is the chronicle of his own attempts to understand the world as he experienced it. It is as disorganized, spontaneous, unkempt, and bizarre as the man who wrote it. No more, no less.

This book did not go on my favourites list precisely because of these factors. While the book becomes much more collected in its second half, the first bit is quite difficult to puzzle through. It is disjointed enough that it made me literally tear my hair out. Completely. I'm bald now, you see.

However, this is also the book's greatest strength, and as a result the highest possible recommendation. The thing about VALIS is that it must be understood from the perspective of the man writing it. If you know nothing about Dick, you will not appreciate this book at all. But I, however, knew everything about Dick, and so I loved it. I think the triumph of this book comes from its ability to help us, as John Green incessantly says, to "imagine people complexly." Fiction is an attempt to metabolize an experience or idea so that it can be understood on an emotional level by someone who fundamentally does not share that idea or experience initially. I've said this before, and I will probably say it again. But it is true. VALIS is a guide through the garden of madness. It is the book that allows us to understand what it means to be schizophrenic, what it means to be intensely religious, and ultimately what it means to be Philip K. Dick. That is the genius of VALIS: it lets us not only understand the implications of these things, but the experience itself.

A good part of what made this book difficult to read was that it was so referential. You do not need to get every obscure reference to a medieval alchemist, a pulp science fiction writer, or a Christian revolutionary to understand the plot of the book, but you do if you intend to get the experience I outlined in the previous paragraph. Essentially, this is a book that requires research. To even begin to "get" this book, a heavy knowledge of Dick is required. For this purpose, I cannot highly enough recommend the reading of Lawrence Sutin's The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. If you read that book before you read this one, you should be adequately prepared.

Five out of five alien godhead satellites and a recommendation to those fascinated by Dick specifically or by madness in general, albeit with a caveat to read Sutin's book first. From there, we go.

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03/30/2016 marked as: read

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