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The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K Le Guin

June 5, 2014

latheofheavenThe Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K Le Guin (1976)
Review by M Fenn

Ursula K Le Guin‘s The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr, a man whose dreams can change reality. He tries to prevent this by drugging himself dreamless, but that doesn’t work and he ends up in “voluntary” therapy. His therapist, Dr Haber, is at first suspicious of Orr’s claims, but when he experiences what Orr’s dreams can do first hand, he chooses to use George instead of help him, claiming he’s working for the greater good of humankind. We all know how that kind of thing usually plays out, don’t we?

Concerned about how Dr Haber is treating him, George seeks out the assistance of an attorney, Heather LeLache, who then becomes involved in his life and his dreams.

What do I love about this book? Not sure where to begin. I fell in love part way through the first paragraph and was sad when it ended. Now, I just want to start over and read the book again and again until I memorize it.

There isn’t just one thing that stands out. Le Guin’s prose is delicious: heartwrenching, beautiful, and sharply funny.I love the way she plays with language, the words she makes up, the ones she borrows from other works, and the humour she finds in language itself. (Oh, the French diseases of the soul.)

The story itself is strong: dark and creepy, a mix of George Orwell and Philip K Dick (I know I’m not the first person to come up with that combination). The characters Le Guin creates are wonderful and stick with me, the two I adore and the one I detest, as well. Orr himself is such a strong person for all his quiet fear and insecurity. At one point in the novel, LeLache describes him as such:

It was more than dignity. Integrity? Wholeness? Like a block of wood not carved.

The infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the nonacting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.

…He was the strongest person she had ever known, because he could not be moved away from the center.

And then there are the turtles. I won’t say anything more of them, but they are a special part of the book.

I do wonder at the changes that happen to one character’s persona as the book progresses, and Le Guin even brings this up at the end of the story. Why does George change this one person in his dreams and not the other person who’s truly hurting him, and what do those choices mean, if they are his choices?

So much to think about. One of the many reasons I need to reread The Lathe of Heaven. Brilliant book. I love it.

This review originally appeared on Skinnier Than It Is Wide.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2014 8:51 pm

    Excellent. I love The Lathe of Heaven. I remember being especially impressed with the way the novel keeps resetting its own status quo: one minute it’s a guy-on-a-doctor’s-couch novel, then it’s a nuclear panic/apocalypse story, then it’s an alien invasion narrative, then a social-issues commentary on racism, then a failed utopia etc. etc. I’m sure genre theorists could find something interesting in this sort of sub-genre smorgasbording, and how it reflected the state of contemporary SF writing back in the mid-70’s?

    And the fact that Le Guin does this constant (and brilliantly abrupt) genre-shifting while simultaneously maintaining an amazing depth and continuity of character is just brilliant. Oh! and the bit when… *spoilers*… George accidentally dreams away his wife is profoundly moving, too; no small feat considering that TLOH is such a tiny little book.

    Great review. Nice to see one my favourites getting such love🙂
    Tom.

    • July 6, 2014 7:53 pm

      Thanks, Tom. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hadn’t really thought of Le Guin’s genre-shifting like that. Makes the story even better.🙂 Sorry not to reply before now; just saw your comment.

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