Shatter Lavinia

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le GuinLavinia
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Lavinia has existed as a character since the first center BCE, but only in a few lines of Virgil’s Aeneid. Le Guin’s Lavinia is aware of it.

She is aware she’s fictional. She is aware her poet wrote her without any dialogue. She is aware he said that she was blonde when she is quite clearly a brunette, and there are a scattered handful of other things she could correct him on, but they don’t quite matter.

He knew where she was born. He knew who her father was and who she would marry. He knew when her husband would die. He knew the wars that would be won and lost around her home, who would lose blood in them, that she would be daughter, wife, and mother of kings.

And I’ve never met a character so at peace with her own fictionality.

Le Guin picked up the early Italian’s ideas on prophecy and deity and wove them seamlessly together with author and craft. The resulting image of predetermination is delicately handled and beautifully revealed. While reading, Lavinia exists, to herself, to Virgil, to Le Guin, and to the audience.

This is the first Ursula K. LeGuin novel I have read, though I have heard people rave about her for years. Now, I understand why. I could recommend this book to anyone, though I might prod them to read the Aeneid first.

Shatter Me by Tahereh MafiShatter Me
by Tahereh Mafi

This is the first book in the Shatter Me trilogy, about a dystopian world where people are showing up with strange powers. The main character, Juliette can kill people with a touch, which makes her strangely – horribly – valuable to her government. And it’s a strange book, stylistically speaking, which is the reason I bought it.

I read the first page in the store, which was littered in lines that had been crossed out, but were still clearly readable. After each line of crossed out text, was the same thought rephrased, euphemized, and false. I instantly liked the crossed out text on the cover. I wanted to read the book about the girl who knew the truth – that her touch was lethal – but had been somehow taught to claim it was power. I liked the feeling that censorship first gave me of the dystopian world this book is set in.

The book also plays with word choice and twisted phrases. Sometimes I think it works (“A voice detonates my name.” Page 49) and sometimes I really think it doesn’t (“My jaw is dangling from my shoelace.” Page 310).

And then the book draws a large amount of attention to the use of numbers by always giving them as numerals: I take 2 steps backward. I can’t say I found any meaning in it.

Altogether, these things give the book a very experimental feel. At the beginning of the book, where the word play was thickest, I like it. The main character, Juliette is locked in a cell to keep her away from other people, questioning her own sanity. It seems to work. Unfortunately, it’s efficacy fades for me as the book continues, while Juliette is released, courted (and imprisoned) by a very questionable army recruiter, and runs off to find her own freedom with a hunky soldier boy. The writing style becomes distracting and the plot never manages to catch me.

I will be keeping this book on my shelf because I can see myself rereading the beginning, but I don’t expect to pick up the second and third installments of this trilogy.

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