Book Reviews
The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula Le Guin
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula Le Guin

For The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula Le Guin has created a world, alien yet with similarities to our own, its calendar, topography, inhabitants and politics so exactly imagined and described that disbelief is easily suspended. Winter, as its name suggests, is a planet in the grip of an ice age, its people hermaphrodites, able to be either mother or father and, when not ‘in kemmer’, androgynous and not subject to sexual desire. To this world comes an envoy from Earth, Genly Ai: his mission is to make contact with the inhabitants of Winter and persuade them to communicate with the other planets in the Ekumen or confederation.

I found the story difficult to get into; the politics in Karhide, the province of Winter where Mr Ai lands, are complex, the multitude of alien names and words a strain to keep track of. There’s little or no emotional content in the first part of the story, so it was difficult to engage with any of the characters until well into the book, when Mr Ai and a friend make their amazing journey across the ice and became close to one another. At this point the novel really took off and I was glad I’d persevered. The novel raises interesting questions about human sexuality, politics and friendship; one can’t help drawing parallels with human life on Winter and life on Earth – in fact Winter seemed uncannily and frighteningly like a future Earth.

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