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Friday, May 07, 2010

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

As I have often said before, Ursula K. Le Guin may be the best writer of fantastic fiction, in English, during the last half of the twentieth century, and the first part of the twenty-first. She is now eighty years old, and her first book was published in 1966. Lavinia, her latest fiction work, was published in 2008. (The book does not have a full Wikipedia article, but here is a substantive review of the work.) Although the book is sometimes classified as fantasy, it seems to me to belong in the category of historical fiction, being set in Italy in a time shortly before the founding of Rome. The fantastic part is that the poet, Vergil (who is not named in the book) who wrote The Aeneid, appears in visions to Lavinia. They discuss various aspects of her life, or that of Aeneas, who becomes her husband for a few years.

Lavinia is based on Vergil's Aeneid. There is a character in that work, named Lavinia, but she is not fleshed out well, according to Le Guin, and the review. Le Guin, as she has done in some other works, has emphasized a female character, and made her seem to be real, as much as fiction can.

Another emphasis in the book is the matter of war. Le Guin shows the futility, the waste, the pride of war, without despising those who participate.

Here are two of my favorite quotations from the book:

Not even a poet can speak the whole truth. Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008) p. 10.

". . . How much is it right for me to tell you? Do you want to know your future, Lavinia?"
"No," I said at once. Then I sought in my own mind for my duty, or my will, and finally said, "I want to know what's right to do, but I don't want to know what's to come of it." Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008) p. 41

Thanks for reading. Read Le Guin.

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