Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the living masters of genre fiction. Serious readers of fiction (and anyone who ever wishes to be a writer of such) will want to read, enjoy and even study her work. However, she’s been writing for well over 50 years and has produced well over 70 works (depending on how you count it). So it can be difficult to know exactly where to start.
The Library of America have solved this dilemma for the reader by producing The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs. This may seem like an unusual choice; Le Guin is better known for her science fiction and fantasy works (namely The Left Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Earthsea). Orsinia on the other hand is more mundane in its approach. Set in the fictional European country of Orsinia, the stories are historical style stories which use social upheaval to frame tales of everyday human struggle. They mix the dullness of everyday life with the amazing things a person can do with that life.
Malafrena is a novel length story that dominates this anthology. It’s a coming of age tale, following the trials and tribulations of a young chap who is lured to the capital city with the promise of freedom. His perspective is one of suffering; he sees his life as inherently unfair as the world does not bend to his will. We also see the character from the perspective of others; a spoilt and privileged young man without any measure of humility. Malafrena is one of Le Guin’s earliest works and it’s easy to see how her talent evolved after this book.
Other stories run along similar lines, exploring art, politics, power and control. They are all highly nostalgic and though Orsinia isn’t a chocolate box vision of historical Europe, it does come close at times. As the collection ends, we become more and more familiar with this most interesting of fictional lands and it’s easy to find oneself trapped there, between the pages.
The book itself is beautifully produced. The Library of America is a non-profit organisation that only prints books that it feels are America’s best and most significant writing. The organisation ensures that the book is never out of print, and as such, all of their books are made to last. This is a beautiful thing, bound in such a way that it will be robust and long lasting. Though this lends a ‘family bible’ vibe to book, it’s still a rather lovely thing, and with it’s plain black cover, looks imposing on the shelf.
This is a staggering collection of work, and one that every genre fan should take the time to get to know.
URSULA K. LE GUIN: THE COMPLETE ORSINIA: MALAFRENA / STORIES AND SONGS / AUTHOR: URSULA K. LE GUIN / PUBLISHER: THE LIBRARY OF AMERICA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW