wishfulclicking: man in black and white pulling back a curtain to show moving sky (Default)
[personal profile] wishfulclicking
This is a post for a summer book club hosted by skuf.

This is not my first reading of The Left Hand of Darkness so feel free to mention events beyond the first chapter if you like in the comments. Because the discussion posts are based on the first chapter, that is what I’m going to mostly focus on.

What primarily sticks out for me when reading this first chapter is how Le Guin conveys the complete alien feeling of the setting but also of the main character. By having Genly Ai be an envoy to an alien planet, and by deciding to tell the story in his pov, Le Guin just drops the reader into this world that is completely different from Earth and introduces the world through someone who is also foreign to it, and closely aligned to perceptions most close to the modern world written at that time.

I like how different everything is and how slowly those differences are revealed: the confusion Genly Ai feels in trying to read Estraven, the relation to Time, the actual definition of an Island in this world, the mention of kemmering without truly explaining the definition. Also, starting the story with Genly Ai who has already spent time at the planet allows Le Guin to skip the whole new planet ship crashing thing and starts right with culture clashes and political games beyond Genly Ai’s scope.

The interactions between Genly Ai and Estraven,and Genly Ai’s confusion in relating to Estraven and other Gethens when it comes to describing them in his report, reinforce one of the differences in this world; he explicitly first describes Estraven with the male pronoun but then elaborates how perhaps he is not accurately describing Estraven and admits how Estraven’s ‘female coded’ behavior discomforts him.

Nationalism, and its true nature, was one of my favorite parts of this chapter. Wondering at the mix of aggression and hatred towards the other that’s paired with strong nationalistic tendencies and how Genly Ai, who is from a civilization that is viewed as having moved beyond the nation boundaries Gethen/Winter currently has, is a threat to that with his mission. Reading a book beyond the first time allows me to relax because I’m not worried about how the plot will fall because I already know that, and this allows me to take in more of the characteristics of the world and the conversations.

I’m definitely going to keep on reading this another time.

Date: 2015-07-17 06:44 pm (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Foreigner)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
I have also read it previously, but didn't much care for it - in part, I'm sure, because a review had sold it to me as a gay romance, which it is not.

I re-read the first chapter twice for this discussion, and didn't care for it any more than first time. Both the Gethens and Genly Ai - despite GA being from Earth - are alien to me, and I don't understand them. As such, there's not much for me to like, just frustration at how un-understandable everything is.

I don't care for GA's misogyny at all, which feels like it's coming from Le Guin, too, not just her character (the use of "effeminate" alone, blargh!).

Hope someone with a more positive reading joins the discussion, so it's not just me and my usual whining :)

Date: 2015-07-28 11:26 am (UTC)
calvinahobbes: Calvin holding a cardboard tv-shape up in front of himself (Default)
From: [personal profile] calvinahobbes
The ending fell quite flat to me! It felt really abrupt, and then in my ebook it was followed immediately by that overview of the Gethen calendar, which confused me because I thought it had a point to it :(

I am totally ready to ship Genly/Estraven, but I also really liked how Genly emphasises their mutual alienness, and how any kind of sex or romance between them would just diminish their connection, idk, I'm just really into this book!

Date: 2015-08-02 08:26 am (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Foreigner)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
I had the same experience with the ending!

how any kind of sex or romance between them would just diminish their connection
I was and am super-pissed off at Genly for turning his back on Estraven.

Date: 2015-08-02 08:25 am (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Foreigner)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
Totally odd, not ok.

I will say that I wasn't untempted to keep reading again this time around, but then Life got busy, and now I'm comitted to finishing To Kill a Mocking Bird AND read and participate in the discussion on the first chapter of Frankenstein, so I'm unlikely to ever pick up The Left Hand of Darkness again.

Date: 2015-07-28 11:22 am (UTC)
calvinahobbes: Calvin holding a cardboard tv-shape up in front of himself (Default)
From: [personal profile] calvinahobbes
I read the whole thing! I really liked it! I kept thinking about how you said it wasn't a romance, and you are completely right, it really isn't, but I also kinda shipped it at one point.

I don't like the first chapter, either, I think it is confusing and pretty boring and not a good introduction to the story as a whole. And I agree that Genly is hard to understand at first, and urgh misogyny urgh, so weird and pointless.

I really like the "collected documents" style of the book as a whole - that really worked for me, and was a surprise treat.

Date: 2015-08-02 08:28 am (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Foreigner)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
The collected documents style didn't work for me in this book, though it's worked well in others. I don't know that it's just that Genly is writing a report, but admitting he's not being factual, but literary about it - I don't know how I'm supposed to read the novel knowing that. All narrators are untrustworthy, but HOW untrustworthy is Genly???

Date: 2015-07-21 06:07 pm (UTC)
kabal42: Captain America and Iron Man leaning on each other, arms around each other's shoulders (Default)
From: [personal profile] kabal42
Okay, I just now finished the first chapter, and I was amused and pleased to read your posts, because I had pretty much the exact same reactions. I have not read the book before, but I like it a lot so far. I am pretty sure I will keep reading.

I enjoyed the alien feeling, the slow discovery of things - and of things yet to be discovered. It is too early for me to relate to anyone at all, so I have no views of what I make of them. But the alien on an alien world totally works for me.

Ai's confusion about the Gethens just makes me want to know more, to get a sense for who they are, how their society works, how, indeed, they see themselves.

The quotes about nationalism had me almost clapping my hands. That is a good observation and well phrased too.

Date: 2016-01-02 07:07 pm (UTC)
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)
From: [personal profile] luzula
This is a really late comment, but I recently reread this book and its treatment of politics and nationalism was my favorite thing in it this time around. How it doesn't matter if you're on the road to or from Mishnory, you have to get off the road and go another way. So to speak.

Date: 2016-01-05 08:46 pm (UTC)
kabal42: Captain America and Iron Man leaning on each other, arms around each other's shoulders (Default)
From: [personal profile] kabal42
Late comment is very welcome to me at least :) There were so many things in this book. I do think I will return to it for a reread in a while.

Date: 2015-07-28 11:17 am (UTC)
calvinahobbes: Calvin holding a cardboard tv-shape up in front of himself (Default)
From: [personal profile] calvinahobbes
I know I am super late to this discussion, but I continued reading beyond the first chapter, and it quickly became clear to me that I had to read the whole thing, and then I didn't want to comment until I had finished! I've just finished it, and I'm so glad that you picked this book for the reading club, I have no idea if I ever would have gotten to it otherwise, and I really really liked it! So thank you! :)

That said, I thought the first chapter was quite boring and I wasn't really engaged by it at all. I also noticed the misogyny, which is weird to me in hindsight, because I think it's something that disappears from the book as it goes along. Genly's descriptions of people, perhaps as the reader learns more about the world, become less focused on feminine/masculine except when he's trying to explain how his perception of them flows and changes. All in all, I think the first chapter is a really poor way to start the novel - it doesn't give much of a hint of what the story is actually going to be about.

On one hand, I'm sure it's much easier to read a whole book that just uses "generic male" pronouns, but on the other hand I do think it skews the reader's understanding of the Gethen gender.

ETA: Oh, also, the book reminded me quite a lot of Melissa Scott's The Kindly Ones. It seems to me MS's universe builds on the Hainish one, and maybe also her inclusion of LGBT and genderqueer/-neutral characters is a continuation of Le Guin.
Edited Date: 2015-07-28 11:30 am (UTC)

Date: 2015-08-02 08:29 am (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Foreigner)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
It'd have been so easy to use gender-neutral pronouns - I don't get Le Guins insistence on not using them.

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wishfulclicking: man in black and white pulling back a curtain to show moving sky (Default)
needs to up my sock game

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