“There was a wall. It did not look important…But the idea was real…Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon the which side of it you were on”.
In “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Call me Shevek. Some years ago, never mind how many, I set out to be the tedious, most hypocritical, unreal character in all of fiction. That I failed is of little consequence. But here, for your records is some of the bare facts of how I failed.
Manuel, Manuel, Manuel. I don't drink booze? But I got drunk at a party, ejaculated all over a woman's dress (Did Bill Clinton read my tale?) and then promptly threw up. Did you skip some of my story? I am not amused! When I saw I was causing distress on page 75 to those very different to myself, I stopped. Am I not sympathetic? I make jokes. 'You have your anarchist. What are you going to do with him?' and so on...but I won't dwell on the point. ;) And now having read the novel again after about 10 years, I am even fonder of it that I was back then. Chapter 5 is like a distilled version of “The Brothers Karamazov” and the whole is a more serious, thoughtful “Stranger in a Strange Land”.
So, yes, Manuel, Shevek is quite like me in many ways, but since I've never had a single alcoholic drink in my life, I am even more unreliable as a character!!
And so this orphan is all alone without even a cardboard character to keep me company. ;)"
What you’ve read above is what I wrote many eons ago after having going through the novel with a fine-tooth comb. And I’ve just finished my third reading. Is it possible for a novel to improve over time? It’s even better than the last two readings.
What has always fascinated me about this novel is that Le Guin, instead of having chosen a traveler to utopia, chose a citizen of utopia. Shevek is a cypher. I know, but me as the reader I’m challenged to experience integrity and integration in the novel’s images, structure, scientific novum, and social relationships. It was one of the first novels wherein I got immersed in the story even when I did not believe in Shevek as a character. The imagery was (still is) so strong that Shevek’s shortcomings as a character are not enough to diminish my enjoying of the novel. It was also one of the first novels I read wherein the chronology of events was not told sequentially. Back in the day, as a reader of SF, it was my first encounter with this narrative device. It came as a shock. I understood there were people writing SF that could write successfully by going at it differently. Le Guin’s alternate storytelling between Shevek’s first years on Anarres and his single year on Urras is nothing short of masterful. I can experience different periods in Shevek’s life circling each other in my mind, each separate year integrated, and exchanging roles of cause and effect. The first time I read the novel I was also deeply impressed with Shevek’s attempts at developing a general temporal theory combining the concepts of time and simultaneity (sic). At the time I was already in college and Physics was present in my life on a daily basis (and Einstein’s theory of relativity was also very much in my mind in particular).
Shevek’s attempts at understanding his personal and social function in society and at finding the theoretical foundation for the general temporal theory are depicted as the familiar circular journey of discovery which Le Guin used in the Earthsea novels, i.e., the journey outward at some point involves a return to one’s origins before moving outward again.
“The Dispossessed” is one of the novels that made me the way I’m today, for better or worse. If one had any doubts concerning the existence of stuff with transformative powers SF-wise, look no further. This is it.
There’s so much I could write about this novel.