Both foreign and familiar

Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

Ursula Le Guin Voices
Orion Childrens Books 2007

Le Guin has a magical gift of creating credible alternate universes peopled with characters so well drawn you feel you know them personally, suffusing them with a passionate humanism that both transforms and warms her worlds of SF and fantasy. Voices is part of another such world, set in the Lands of the Western Shore, and while linking the previous title Gifts and the sequel Powers exists equally well as a standalone novel.

The main protagonist is the youngster Memer who grows into womanhood by the end of the novel. Set in a Mediterranean-like port called Ansul (think medieval Venice or Genoa or Split: a map is provided to help orientate the reader) the story concerns her experience of living in an occupied city where both reading and books are banned for religious reasons. Against these conditions, which are familiar from much modern history, are set the fantasy element, which is that Memer finds herself apparently a mouthpiece of prophecies, a sybil in fact, the consequence of her adoption by a household where there is a such a tradition.

Adding to the voices that Memer hears inwardly are the audible voice of the poet Orrec and the inaudible voice that his wife Gry uses to call her lion. Orrec and Gry, when they first appeared in Gifts, were then scarcely the age that Memer now attains in the grand culmination of this book, but they have matured and attained a sense of ease with who they are, a sharp contrast to their own troubled adolescences.

As always Le Guin has penned a rich and satisfying coming-of-age tale of while also dealing with big issues such as religious intolerance and the nebulous nature of revelation. It is rare that you can so successfully imagine yourself stepping into another existence which is simultaneously both foreign and familiar; that Le Guin does it with seeming effortlessness is to her credit and all our gain.

Do leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.