LaviniaLavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lavinia is an oddity in the sf* world: a slow and thoughtful book. it’s also a beautifully written slow and thoughtful book, as one must expect from Ursula K. Le Guin–she don’t write no dogs.

the most interesting thing about this book to me was the very quiet rebellion Lavinia herself stages. she’s a young girl in a time when girls didn’t have any real power with which to fight–Lavinia’s only power is to say no, until she is willing to say yes. when the time comes that she’s expected to marry, she says no to all her suitors.

for us’ns contemporary folk, that doesn’t sound like much. we want her to whip out a machine gun and blow away anyone who threatens her independence, until all the women in the country rise up, throw off their chains, and beat the downtrodding menfolk into submission with them. but le Guin is better than that, and she won’t give us that kind of easy out.

Lavinia uses all the tools of the mostly-powerless: delay, evasion, calls to conscience. and we have to shadow along with her while she does, and it is sometimes awfully uncomfortable. but if we are to understand Lavinia at all, we have to understand the cage she lives in, even when we’d much prefer not to see the bars.

Lavinia is a queen-in-the-making, of course; she’s not a slave girl of Gorn, nobody’s going to rape and abuse her. and so we are left with the subtler aspects of disempowerment–assigning blame to the powerless for the actions of the powerful, coercion (or persuasion, if you prefer), the implacable weight of custom and society’s expectations. Lavinia the small, however, resists all the Big People in her world with admirable and quiet determination.

another interesting aspect of the book is one that’s rather unapproachable for me: devotion to religion, to piety. apparently in Lavinia’s time that meant something rather different than it appears to today, and it’s a pleasure to ninja in on. what a feeling of security it must have been, to see oneself as part of a larger whole containing not just people but the rightness of good government and all of nature itself. can you imagine? it’s very difficult for me, but what glimpses i catch make me deeply envious.

this book rocks, in its slow way. nobody’s ever going to make a blockbuster movie out of it, which is all to the good; coming at this book in that mindset is antithetical to its feeling. light up a candle, grab a glass of wine, put on some mellow music, and listen carefully to what Lavinia has to whisper to you: it’s worth the attention you must pay.

*which ignores the question of whether it belongs in sf at all. personally, i don’t much care for cramming things in boxes; i bet the author would be just as proud to call it sf as fine lit, and if she doesn’t have a hissy, why should i?

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