The Unreal and the Real Volume 1: Where on Earth

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 3 stars

This is a difficult book for me to try and review, because le Guin’s writing is marvellous and I don’t want to put anyone off reading it, but I’m not really a fan of Literature-with-a-capital-L and that’s what most of these stories are. Mostly pure realism, often just slice of life and not really the plot-driven stories that I like.

So enjoy is probably the wrong word for me in describing these stories, but I very definitely did appreciate them. Le Guin is a master of her field and she can invoke a sense of place and of people with ease. I think her Orsinia stories are great for this, of which there are four in this collection, combining to tell a loose narrative about life in this fictional East European country. The last ‘story’ in the collection, Half Past Four is probably one of my favourites, even though it isn’t a single story. It’s actually eight vignettes featuring people with the same names and general life roles (older man with quite a lot of authority, older woman with less authority etc). In the introduction, le Guin explains how this came about as part of a writing workshop that she was leading. It’s interesting to see the different types of story that can be told with just four different character archetypes, but also how many themes emerge, linking the stories.

It’s not all realism, there are a few edged with magical realism or even SF, such as the rather grim The Diary of the Rose and the more whimsical Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight. I enjoyed Direction of the Road as well, but to say any more about it would spoil it.

So I’m glad that I’ve read this collection, just to get more of a feel of le Guin’s versatility and strength as a writer, but I think I’ll probably enjoy the second volume, which focuses more on her fantastical work, more.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473202832
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

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