Review: They

In short, They is astonishing. It’s a profound, immensely precise piece of literature about the oppression of art and freedom, written by an author unappreciated by her own publisher in her time. And it’s deliciously short.

A fascinating foreword from Carmen Maria Machado frames this novel, which feels more timely than ever, shedding light on how this novel was lost. Faber finds new life and a new readership by republishing this dystopian masterpiece that deserves to be devoured, deconstructed, and discussed with as much vigour as its forefathers in The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984.

We know well that today’s readers have an appetite for dystopian worlds, but where Atwood’s is shocking and provocative, Dick’s is built with an incredibly light in touch. Even in her novel’s title, Dick skirts around the story’s oppressors, referring to them only as They. Who are they? A mysterious movement or body of people who are on a mission to tear art, culture and freedom apart. They come in the night, stealing and destroying artwork. They “cure” those who express their freedoms.

They is a story that challenges our tendency to think in “group minds”. It calls for us to hold on strongly to our identities and the expression of individuality, which feels prescient in a world that is quick to silence both. Dick’s prose is melodic and utterly compelling, pitched against its subject matter that is steeped in terror. There is a bulletproof voice behind the writing of They, leaving me indebted to Dick for expressing hers, and to Faber for rediscovering it. I expect I will be revisiting this in years to come.

By Rory McNeill