Trust your author

I’m in the middle of both The Left Hand of Darkness and The Rhetoric of Fiction at the moment. Something rings … rings strange to me about the former, and I think it’s explained by the latter.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin flits back and forth between different voices. She sometimes contrasts their views, shows how one misunderstands the other.

… and when I thought myself most blunt and frank with him he may have found me most subtle and unclear.

But it feels a little neat? A little too tidy?

The Rhetoric of Fiction is all about the voices authors use, the way they talk to their audience. One of the things Le Guin is doing is creating a picture of people misunderstanding, talking past each other – but the way she does that depends on the viewpoint of an author who is omniscient, knows everything, sees their foolish misunderstandings. Which, in a way, feels as though it undermines her point. If human beings are so bad at communicating, fumbling their way towards mutual understanding – why should the narrator be any different? Why are they privileged?

I haven’t read much of Le Guine’s writing, and I want to read more. I know there are other great books she’s written. But there’s a note in this piece that rang a little hollow for me.


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