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I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K. Dick Paperback – 15 May 2006
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***** Youll want to go back to the novels, or envy those about to read them for the first time -- Uncut
An imaginative biography lends pathos and dignity to the life of a man -- Christopher Tayler, Sunday Telegraph
Compelling This book should convert a few more readers -- Guardian
About the Author
Emmanuel Carrere is one of France's most critically acclaimed writers, the author of several screenplays and novels, including Class Trip and Moustache, as well as The Adversary, a New York Times Notable Book of 2001. He lives in Paris.
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He succeeds brilliantly. It's astounding that in his paranoid delusional state Dick achieved so much, although paradoxically that's what drove him. It's a testament to M. Carrere's skill that his portrait is so lucid. His book could so easily have fallen apart, as Dick did.
If you've seen some of the films (Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly) or read some of the books (The Man in a High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubiq) reading this book will enhance your appreciation of them. You'll suddenly realise what Dick was getting at, where before you'd enjoyed the ride.
It left me wanting a 'proper' biography (which exists, it's by Lawrence Sutin). That's not a criticism, Dick's universe had little room for reality. He discards the bit players in his life when they cease to be relevant. Now I'd like to know about Dick, as they saw him. The 'real' Dick, perhaps.
The story is frequently disturbing - especially as it chronicles the most bizarre epoch of Dick's life, spent in a house with drug-dependent young people, who inspired the characters for his 70s masterwork A SCANNER DARKLY.
Negatives: The book does spend perhaps too much time on simply retelling the plots of various PKD novels (though some of this is certainly needed); photographs would have aided the account; a bibliography would have been good also.
Good Points: The biographer conveys events in a literary yet lucid written style and cleverly mixes demanding passages with lighter anecdotes.
I have never read anything as compelling as this about Philp K Dick.
Dick was exasperated about the perceived limitations of his genre while he was alive but before his untimely death in 1982 he had received industry acclaim for The Man in the High Castle in the sixties, but otherwise had garnered only cult following. Broader recognition beckoned - Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, based on Dick's altogether more complex Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was in post-production. Fame and fortune beckoned, but by this stage, as Emmanuel Carrere makes plain, even if he had not suffered massive stroke, Philip K Dick was in no state, mental or physical, to enjoy or capitalise on it.
That Dick was a troubled soul is relatively well known, but Carrere's biography explores and extrapolates Dick's unstable mental state into his literature and life choices, which became increasingly bizarre as the Seventies wore on. Carrere sources Dick's discord in the death in infancy of his twin sister Jane, and was compounded by Dick's hypochondria - and has produced an effervescent and fascinating portrait. Carrere, perhaps by taking some licence, gives us a close and personal view into his subject's unusually complex psyche which is rare in a contemporary biography (the only other comparable example I can recall is the Gilmans' excellent Alias David Bowie). Because of Carrere's aproach, Philip K. Dick is made very real on the page.
Some will complain that Carerre's approach crosses a sacred line into fictionalising, but philosophically I don't have a problem with that (I'm not sure there even is such a line in fact): particularly since Philip K Dick is long dead, outside the content of his oeuvre we don't have any "facts" against which Carrere's story can be measured - which will give pause in some quarters - but it doesn't feel to me that Carrere has breached the poetic licence he undoubtedly as as a biographer. That the complaints, such as they are, have mostly been "in principle" and not on substance seems to confirm that. These are fair fictionalisations, that is, and they paint a vibrant and fascinating picture of the man and an excellent introduction to his major works which are analysed and contextualised in a good amount of detail.
The implication, never actually made, is that Dick's hypochondria transcended simple pharmaceutical dependence and evolved into paranoia and ultimately genuine psychiatric illness. One might wonder what effect the cinematic success of Blade Runner and the many subsequent Dick dramatisations might have had on his mental state and subsequent writing career, but not for long: on Carrere's account he was a burnt-out husk by the end so, most likely, none.
Carrere is a novelist himself, and he writes well - as, it should be said, does his translator. This didn't feel at all like a translated book.
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