Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed

Title: The Dispossessed
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Year:
1974

My previous experiences of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writings have been many and various. Generally, she writes about interesting matters, but somehow always manages to produce dull novels, only barely kept afloat by intriguing concepts. In a way, the same is true for The Dispossessed as well, although it is less dull than her other novels (The Left Hand of Darkness) and presents more interesting ideas than usual (A Wizard of Earthsea), which not only make it float, but make it cruise with grace.

The Dispossessed is a tale of two worlds, of the lush mother world Urras and of its barren moon Anarres. 170 years ago, a revolution shook Urras and the revolutionaries were eventually subdued by giving them the moon to settle. They colonised this harsh world and built an anarchist society free from government, police and any other institution. People were free to do whatever they liked, and joined together in syndicates to get necessary work done. The system has been running ever since, but is it working?

Urras, on the other hand, is a world which has got much in common with our own. It is a world of vast riches and tremendous poverty, of pleasure and suffering, all mixed and intertwined into a complex capitalist system.

The book has an interesting structure in that it is divided into two prallel stories, separated in time, but both focusing on the Anarrasti physicist Shevek. One thread concerns Shevek after his leaving for Urras, and the other gradually builds up towards his actual departure. Since he is a physicist who says that time is really simultaneous, it is most fitting with a non-linear handling of time.

The Dispossessed is a book about conflicting ideas. Two separate systems are presented, with their various pros and cons, but are they really that much different, deep down under the surface? Like small fish among these ideas, characters swim, but are not that important to me. However, they are certainly necessary, since they provide examples and a means of guiding the reader through both worlds.

I would like to end by referring back to the introduction. There is one thing that stops this book from being a master piece; it is rather dully written. More interesting characters could have been wished for if it were not for the fact that they need to be as they are in order to fill their function. Conclusively, it feels good to have read something by Ursula K. Le Guin which I really enjoyed, since I have had the feeling that she can provide just that.

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