Book: Always coming home - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Always coming home
Thursday, 28 April 2005 at 11:41 pm
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Author: Ursula K Le Guin

Details: (c) 1985 Ursula K Le Guin 1985; Pub Bantam 1986, ISBN 0-553-26280-7

Verdict: Always coming home is very poetic and thought-provoking, but I personally prefer things with more of a story.

Reasons for reading it: I've been meaning to read this for absolutely ages, mainly because I'm a big fan of Le Guin. And thick paperbacks represent good value for weight when I'm travelling.

How it came into my hands: If I'm not mistaken I got this on a second-hand book spree during one of my trips to California. But I've had it a while and I can't exactly remember where it comes from.

Always coming home isn't really a novel; it's a setting. There are some stories in it, and some poetry, and some straight description, and all those things are well and good, but basically I read for the story and I'm very unlikely to like even a good book that doesn't have one. That said, it's a very interesting setting, and the depiction of it is really exquisite.

The quality of Le Guin's language is what made me persevere with ACH. The effort was justified by the little fragments of characterization and plot scattered through the book. The other thing I really liked was the framing story, with 'Pandora's' commentary and the discussions of the relationship between author / narrator and reader, and between the present and the book's setting in a post-apocalyptic future. I did find it slow going, though.

The trouble with such rich language is that it's infectious. It's bad enough that I'm fighting the temptation to write LJ posts in the same style, but worse than that, my own mental voice is trying to turn into ACH pastiche. Apart from the fact that it's not the kind of writing which is at all forgiving of being done badly, this is very annoying. I need my internal narration to give me a sense of me, and it's really quite disconcerting when what I'm reading intrudes into my thought processes to this extent. Though I think it is an indication of powerful writing when that happens.

Some of the feminist stuff about women and primitive people being all lovely and fluffy while men and civilized people are destructive and out of touch with nature is a bit annoying, but there's not too much of that. And the Kesh society falls short of being over-idealized and Utopian.

I think you probably have to be more literary than I am to fully appreciate ACH. It is a lovely piece though. I think pthalogreen would get a lot out of this, actually. I could send it to you if you like, cos I doubt you'll be able to get hold of it in Hungary. And I'm sufficiently impressed with it that I'd like to unite with its friends.

I've also put up reviews of Life of Pi and Me talk pretty one day which I read while I was travelling last week.

Today is the fifth day, with no weeks yet completed, of the Omer


Moooood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Tuuuuune: Radio 3 (Shostakovich just now)
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:April 29th, 2005 03:18 pm (UTC)
14 minutes after journal entry, 11:18 am (redbird's time)
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Le Guin's language has definitely affected me: I don't know if I'll ever have her skill with English, but I love her style, and there are bits of her phrasing that are part of my internal landscape. (And now I'm reminded of a bit of Pat Cadigan that has someone literally exploring her internal landscape, and coming to a sign that says "You are here. Where the hell did you think you were?"

And no, Always Coming Home is not exactly a novel: it's a book about a place and some of the ways the people in that place live. I love it, recognizing its faults and always glad when it finds more friends.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:April 29th, 2005 04:15 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 05:15 pm (livredor's time)
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Le Guin's language has definitely affected me: I don't know if I'll ever have her skill with English, but I love her style,
I do really like the way Le Guin handles language (as well as liking other aspects of her writing.) But I think I prefer the less flowery writing in things like Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, rather than the overtly poetic tone of Always Coming Home.

there are bits of her phrasing that are part of my internal landscape.
I can very much see how that would happen. I just don't want to absorb this stuff, because it's a language suited to someone who is very much not like me, even though it's very powerful and beautiful.

someone literally exploring her internal landscape, and coming to a sign
I like that, cos it is on a very literal level a mixed metaphor to talk about language being part of a landscape. It's a mixed metaphor that works for me though, cos most of my internal landscape is made of words rather than images. The authors who are most prominent are Kipling and LM Montgomery, from when I was a kid, then Dickens and Simone de Beauvoir from adolescence, and AS Byatt and Iris Murdoch more recently. And Tolkien, of course, but he's almost too obvious to be worth mentioning. (Maybe there are others I'm not so consciously aware of.)

For the more mystical / spiritual / poetic bits I'd point to Jacques Rivière and Everett Fox' translation of Torah. Le Guin's spirituality I can appreciate aesthetically but I don't think it would suit me.

And no, Always Coming Home is not exactly a novel: it's a book about a place and some of the ways the people in that place live.
That's a very nice description of it, yes. I don't think that's intrinsically a flaw, it's just something that doesn't appeal to me as much as a novel would.

I love it, recognizing its faults and always glad when it finds more friends.
I'm not sure I should count among its friends, really. I think I'm more like an admirer, I can see it as an achievement but it's not entirely my sort of thing.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:April 29th, 2005 03:44 pm (UTC)
41 minutes after journal entry, 11:44 am (rysmiel's time)
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My take on Always Coming Home was that it struck me as LeGuin attempting to manifest an example of the things she has said about thinking that day-to-day life and "women's work" making for just as good stories as adventure and so forth, and not actually making something out of it that has the story nature.

I believe it's entirely possible to tell such stories and have them work as stories, Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang positively leaps to mind. I'm just not sure that LeGuin's way of doing it is ever going to read to me like a story, rather than, oh, a role-playing supplement. [ No disrespect meant to role-playing supplements, but they're not what I'm looking for as novels. ]
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livredor: bookies
From:livredor
Date:April 29th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 05:25 pm (livredor's time)
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LeGuin attempting to manifest an example of the things she has said about thinking that day-to-day life and "women's work" making for just as good stories as adventure and so forth,
I have no problem with the idea that such things can make good stories. I'm very much a reader of stories about day-to-day life and I don't care enough about gender to have any negative opinion of stories about women. But I think a story needs some sort of story-like structure and forward force, more than it it necessarily needs dramatic events.

not actually making something out of it that has the story nature.
I think it does have some story nature, actually. There's a story in there about the future of the world, how it's going to be destroyed by pollution and / or war, and how humanity is going to move on from the ecological disaster and re-adapt and so on. But it's not a story as a whole. Normally whatever else is going on, the story is the main thread that everything else hangs on. Whereas with ACH, the story is kind of incidental to other things.

I'm just not sure that LeGuin's way of doing it is ever going to read to me like a story, rather than, oh, a role-playing supplement.
That comparison did occur to me, too. I didn't put that comment in my review because it sounds more negative than I really wanted. But yes, the book does seem like an invitation to write fanfic or create RP scenarios or something like that. Somehow, I feel that if I read a novel, I want the writer to do that work rather than asking me to do it, though.
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penngwyn: default
From:penngwyn
Date:July 10th, 2005 10:45 am (UTC)
71 days after journal entry

ACH world

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You could, if you wished, strip the binding from a copy of "Always Coming Home", group the three main chunks of the largest story together, and relegate the rest to end-matter. You'd have something that would bear a passable resemblance to an ordinary fantasy novel (although with LeGuin's superlative use of language and set on the periphery of what would normally be considered the "main story").

"Great Art" challenges us to reconsider the forms that make us comfortable. I'll concede that one generally picks up a paperback expecting a novel, and one does not trust any random author -- even a skilled wordsmith -- to violate that expectation willy-nilly.

Please try to see "Always Coming Home" for something more than what it is not. There is a rich fabric of daily life here that -- still no offense intended to them -- has NEVER graced and role-play system or supplement I've ever encountered. REAL PEOPLE *COULD* ACTUALLY LIVE THIS WAY. And LeGuin demonstrates that you can write a utopia without resorting to the Randian device of dressing up polemic and calling it novel.

(X-posted to my journal. I'm interested in discussing ideas for intentional community informed by, if not actually based on, ideas from this book.)
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