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‘The Left Hand of Darkness' at Fifty (theparisreview.org)
65 points by fanf2 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments





Definitely agree with the other comment to close this thread and go read the book without knowing anything about it.

On with the discussion for those who have read it:

As my roommate puts it, any one who thinks gender studies is pointless should read LHoD. I’m not talking about the politicized aspect of gender studies. Just as a means of appreciating how deeply notions of gender influence our thoughts and actions.

The other things that make me so fond of the book:

* The beautiful, intricate relationship between Estraven and Ai.

* How central coldness is to the story. As someone who enjoys cold over heat, I loved reading about the ice world. Random conjecture: I wonder if people who prefer heat over cold have a harder time reading this book. Because Le Guin really makes you feel it at times.

I kinda live for good stories. LHoD was one of those books that invigorated me with life.


The tragic thing about gender (and related) studies is that beyond the political extremists on both sides who've latched onto various aspects of it, it addresses things that absolutely need to be addressed.

LHoD does a great job with this. It is thoughtful, fascinating, and not at all dogmatic.

It makes me so sad to see all the people on the left screeching about wrongthink and identity bullshit at the slightest provocation, and all the (willfully obtuse) people on the right hiding behind their dictionaries as if the fact that gender and sex have historically meant the same thing in some contexts somehow invalidates this whole domain of thought. Absolute idiocy, all of it. I'd say people have forgotten how to think critically but I don't have data to support the hypothesis that they ever had that ability.


I grew up in a warm place. I'm not super fond of the cold. But setting the theme and gender aside, the entire sequence from the escape from the camp all the way to the arrival in Karhide is so vivid and memorable. That kind of thing isn't sophisticated enough to get you points in the critical sphere, but it's a wonderful piece of writing.

"But the highest praise I can give The Left Hand of Darkness is that Le Guin captures the texture of life. This book is full of little moments, bits of sensation and emotion, that show what it feels like to be alive, day after day."

Well put; this was one of the things I enjoyed most about the book as well. I began reading fully expecting to be immersed in the Gethenians' world and their foreign culture, just as Mr. Ai did at the start of his journey. By the end though I realized Le Guin had used these "aliens" to show Mr. Ai and the reader what it truly meant to be human.

The fact that some others here feel that LHoD was not Le Guin's best work makes me excited to read her other books!


> By the end though I realized Le Guin had used these "aliens" to show Mr. Ai and the reader what it truly meant to be human.

Telling lies to show the truth, as she puts it in the introduction: http://theliterarylink.com/leguinintro.html


I read The Dispossessed about 5 years ago and didn’t have any strong reactions from it. Then I read LHoD a few months ago and was blown away. So much so that I’m curious to go back to The Dispossessed and see if my opinion of it radically changes this time around.

from the Wikipedia article on "Ursula of Berkeley":

In December 2009, Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild in protest over its endorsement of Google's book digitization project. "You decided to deal with the devil", she wrote in her resignation letter. "There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle."[32][33] In a speech at the 2014 National Book Awards, Le Guin criticized Amazon and the control it exerted over the publishing industry, specifically referencing Amazon's treatment of the Hachette Book Group during a dispute over ebook publication. Her speech received widespread media attention within and outside the US, and was broadcast twice by National Public Radio


I'd urge anyone reading this before the article to read the book. It's one of the best books I've ever read and a lot of that is because I didn't know what it was about, I don't think I'd have enjoyed it knowing more. Just close this comment page and go read it.

I wanted to like "The Left Hand of Darkness" but found that Le Guin didn't make that much of a great premise and the storytelling seemed a little weak. I don't think this is her best work by far.

Reading this review I realize maybe I didn't read it closely enough or maybe I'm not invested enough in the topic.


The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are my two favorite works of hers, and I've read both a few times over the years.

But that's not what I used to say. I used to say that The Dispossessed was my favorite, and that the Left Hand of Darkness is overrated.

My opinion has flipped over the years. I now give Left Hand the edge, and I think that it's because the books are about such different topics.

The Dispossessed is all about matters I was concerned with when I was a younger man: the relationship of one's work with the world, and the ethics of the larger systems we operate in. It's a lot like other sci-fi books: a treatment of an idea, where the characterization (although strong for the genre) is secondary.

But The Left Hand of Darkness is, at its heart, about the relationship between Genly Ai and Estraven. The core sequence of the novel, the trek across the ice sheet, is beautiful and memorable as a depiction of a setting, but also as an exploration of human intimacy, with the device of Gethenian sexuality used as a kind of scalpel to shed light on how male and female shades our relations.

I used to think that the big ideas were what mattered. But the older I get, the more I appreciate that the big ideas are just extensions of what happens between individuals. The Dispossessed uses this technique as well, of course, but the intimacy of Left Hand just hits harder for me these days.


> I used to think that the big ideas were what mattered. But the older I get, the more I appreciate that the big ideas are just extensions of what happens between individuals.

Very well put.


Out of curiosity, which would you say is her best work?

(Left Hand isn't my favorite, either. I'd probably give that to The Dispossessed).


I really think "A Wizard of Earthsea” is underrated. It really was one of the first examples of fantasy that was set in a society not based on Western ones.

My personal favorite is _The Tombs of Atuan_ - it introduces a new character, creates an entire world around her, then pulls all the assumptions beneath the world apart.

I second this. I think it was my first encounter with a genre book that totally "subverted" everything I had learned fantasy narratives should be.

I liked "Always Coming Home". And "The Lathe of Heaven" made a big impression when I was a kid.

Through childhood association, my favourite is the first three Earthsea books, but probably her greatest writing is in her post-apocalyptic semi-utopia Always Coming Home, and maybe her most moving writing is in the 'story suite' Five Ways to Forgiveness (originally Four Ways...) on societies dealing with racism and slavery. Needless to say, her short stories are marvellous too.

I'd second The Dispossessed.

The Lathe of Heaven [1]. My best example of a book written by one author in the /style/ of another author (in this case, her friend Philip K Dick).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lathe_of_Heaven


Tehanu is my favorite.

I also think the Dispossessed.

I thought "The Left Hand of Darkness" was great. It had a sense of realism and presence that I normally find most fiction lacking.

I'm huge fan of Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea, which I've read and re-read many times, but when I picked up The Left Hand of Darkness I couldn't get in to it because I found it really boring.

A thing I usually bring up:

Le Guin's parents were anthropologists. Her mother wrote two books about Ishi, last of the Yahi tribe. One novelized accounting of his life and another non-fiction accounting of his entering into the world of the US in the 1910s and the work Ursula Le Guin's father did with him.

When viewed from this anthropologist lens, Left Hand of Darkness and other books are fascinating. She makes a world, a history, a people, and she occupies it. Then she explores that world with the characters. LHoD does this in a very literal sense (with a foreign character learning along with us, the readers). I think that's one of the things that I most enjoyed while reading her books.


Read this book for a book club and I found the gendered themes and the way those themes were unpacked for the reader, dated in this era of "gender is a social construct". Unfortunately I'm about a year out from my read of the novel, so I can't really be more specific with that critique as my recollections are also dated.

Ponderous while still interesting. The author did create a compelling alternate universe but I went in with such high expectations given the book's reputation I found myself a bit let down.


I read the book about six months ago and I didn't really enjoy the experience. However, in retrospect, I feel glad to have read it. I didn't draw the same conclusions as the author of this article but it was nice to read her opinion nonetheless.



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