Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K LeGuin
Genre: Science Fiction
Verdict: Read
Started: 2009-02-24
Finished: 2009-02-25

'The Left Hand of Darkness' came highly recommended by several friends; the cover had no less a personage than Michael Moorcock comparing it to 'The Lord of the Rings.' I certainly enjoyed reading this book; it wasn't something that made a huge impression (like, say, 'Perdido Street Station' did), but it's a charming tale in it's own quiet, subtle way. I must admit this is the first time I'm reading Ursula LeGuin, so I didn't get the few references to previous books in the series. It can however be read an an independent novel without spoiling the experience.

The narrative is almost entirely in the first person with very few exceptions; the texture of the narrative is crisp and not given to, for the lack of a better adjective, loudness. This book deals mostly with society and the way it shaped by the sexuality of its members. It also deals with religion to some small extent; I must say I found the philosophy of the Handdara extremely fascinating.

This is very much a 'What if?' book in the same vein as 'Y: The Last Man' - except that instead of all the men vanishing we have a society of human hermaphrodites who take on one gender or the other just for a day or two during every sexual cycle. LeGuin speculates about the kind of society which would evolve if humanity's established pattern of male-female behaviour is replaced by one where every human is truly equal in terms of both social roles and expectations, especially child-bearing. The book is set on a harsh, difficult planet in the middle of an Ice age, and is narrated from the perspective of an outsider, an envoy to one of the nations there.

This is a gentle, thoughtful book and I recommend it without reservation.
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