Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

It’s been just over two weeks since I finished Ursula Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness.  I wanted to pen my thoughts on the matter.  I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum.  Although the novel is fifty plus years old, it managed to pass unheeded by me until now.

It is a science-fiction tale, although at its essence it’s a story about clashes of cultures, and finding common ground.  The story begins with a human envoy landing on a foreign planet (Gethen) in an attempt to arrange a trade treaty with the inhabitants.  However  negotiations are curtailed by the envoy’s lack of understanding of Gethen culture and politics, and this causes issues as he is used for the political purposes of others.

I won’t go into further details of the plot other than to say that it is part political thriller, part love story, part adventure story, and (at times) part travelogue.  It’s the latter element that caused the biggest issues for me.

Most of the first half of the novel is spent detailing elements of the world.  The ambisexual nature of the Gethens precipitates many differences from human cultures, and this is brilliantly handled.  However, too much time is spent conveying them. 

It would perhaps have felt less indulgent had the Envoy been more active. He spends much of the novel reacting to the actions of others instead of initiating his own course.  At times it feels like he merely serves as a device, being dragged from one location to the next,  so Le Guin can show off her creation.

The second-half is much better.  The story suddenly kicks into gear and races to the end.  It offers readers a character study between two very different people (from two very different cultures) that have been placed in an untenable situation in order to survive.  It’s enthralling and deftly handled.

What I particularly liked was the way Le Guin chose to tell the story.  There are two protagonists and both use first-person narrative.  While this could be disorienting, Le Guin makes it work. 

I also liked how she uses short chapters containing Gethen folk tales and historical details to provide key background information to the reader.  While The Left Hand of Darkness  predates it by fifteen years, it  reminded me of the Watchmen comics.

Overall, I liked The Left Hand of Darkness.  However, I don’t feel I would choose to read it again.  To be honest, had I not heard it was a classic I would not have made it to the half-way point of the novel.  I just had too many issues with it.  That said, I’m glad I pushed through to the end.

Rating: 3 out of 5.


I’m skribe. I’m a writer, a film-maker and an actor. While I’m originally from Perth, Australia, I currently reside on a tropical island, the Lion City of Singapore. Fingerprint: 79A1 DC6C D367 8A31 135A 7AFA 940E 4231 D7B9 B15C If you like what you see buy me a coffee.

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