The Beginning Place
Ursula K. Le Guin
Harper & Row
Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she is currently interested in science fiction, particularly stories similar to ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. She found this novel on a list of books that are similar to that one, and she has read another book by Ms. Le Guin in the past, and she admired her as a person, so she decided to pick this up. She was not disappointed.
After her deep dislike of NEUROMANCER last week, THE BEGINNING PLACE was a refreshing respite. This book takes place in a future time, the twenty-first century, or an imagined one that was written around the late seventies. Not a lot of technology exists in this novel, for example, Ms. Hen was surprised the characters did not own a microwave, but that was the small thing wrong with this book. Nobody can see the future, and the proliferation of things like microwaves and computers and the Internet would be difficult to imagine forty years ago.
This is a novel about a young man, Hugh, who works in a supermarket, and gets upset with his life, and runs into a forest that he does not realize at first is a different land. He thinks the place is beautiful and returns and finds a young woman there named Irena. She does not like that he’s in the place, too. People live in a village beyond the mountain, and Irena has been going there for a long time and speaks their language. The people cannot leave their village because of a magical force, and are losing food, so Irena and Hugh offer to help them. They go on an adventure and are not the same afterwards.
This novel is similar to ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, because it is about going to a different country where things and people are strange and operate in an unusual way. It is also reminiscent of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and many other stories in which someone goes on an adventure, and discovers a new, magical world. The difference is that this novel takes place in the future, where not everything in the characters’ lives is peaceful and calm. Hugh works at a supermarket and his mother is miserable. Irena’s family is dysfunctional and has a hard time with her roommates, an unmarried couple who fight all the time. They go past the river and find peace, or at least attempt to do so. Nothing in life is perfect, but we have to do our best.
Ms Hen understands that this is usually a book for young people; which makes sense to her, because it is simply written and it is not violent or graphic. She would have liked to read this when she was young, but she didn’t, but she is glad she just read it, because it makes her feel young, with positive feelings for the future. Being young is not always the best time of life, as Ms. Hen knows, but she thinks that people can be hopeful at any age. Ms. Hen loved this book.