Kate's Reviews > The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
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's review
Jun 22, 13

bookshelves: fantasy
Read in May, 2013

I always have a hard time with Left Hand. Of course, it's brilliant. But I read The Dispossessed first, and The Dispossessed resonates more strongly on a personal level. Le Guin's narrative positioning in Left Hand is unparalleled. Telling the tale from two first person perspectives with a smattering of folktales is exceptional. And she pulls it off without a hitch.
For all the narrative perfection, however, I still find Estraven a largely inaccessible character. Though it makes perfect sense that Genly is the main focus of the novel as the outsider from Earth, I feel I should come away with a better sense of who Estraven is and what his/her motivations are. The reader isn’t provided much more back story for Genly and yet I find him much more emotionally and psychologically accessible. Of course, the end also throws me every time I read it. It's not just that I don't understand the point of Estraven's death. It's that I also don't understand Genly’s visit to Estraven's parent. It feels as though I should, as though I'm missing some connection there.
I end up feeling that the story of these two characters is sacrificed for the political statement the book makes. A statement on gender and gender politics that, at least to some extent, fails to transcend time and is caught in the world of 1960s America. I will say, as I said in my original review, reading the scene in the back of the truck on the way to the labor camp when the young person goes into kemmer and becomes female is the first time I ever truly understood what it is about using “he” as a gender neutral pronoun that is so wrong. It was a transcendent moment in my own personal view of feminism and being a feminist. That alone makes the book worth reading on a political level.
And, of course, I do find Le Guin’s narrative voice rich, creative, and perfectly beautiful. It’s not that I don’t absolutely love Left Hand; it’s more that I fail to see it as her best work, the work she wrote that is most worth reading.

The more I read Left Hand, however, the more I love it. The more I grapple with the narrative difficulties the more, the more I appreciate it. Of course some of the gender issues are dated, but the language is so beautiful, and the story is so inventive and has such depth.
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