When I think of the phrase “transcends the genre,” one of the first people my mind goes to is Ursula K. LeGuin. I don’t mean that I think she’s better than straight genre writers. In fact, I like the genre; I am a straight genre writer. I just means she rises above the category. Lavinia could be considered fantasy. Or it could be considered literature. Or it could be considered a scholarly piece, an extrapolation of a tiny piece from an epic poem.
Lavinia won’t be for everyone. It takes a fairly narrow path, following the life of the title character, a life that she knows is largely planned out for her. Despite the massive implications of what is happening in the world around her, the novel remains grounded in the everyday world of Lavinia. Epic wars may rage around her, but Lavinia remains a rock, aware that she is riding a narrative written for her.
It’s all expressed beautifully, with precisely the right words. I thought this summed up the main character’s approach to her own narrative:
It has not been difficult for me to believe in my fictionality, because it is, after all, so slight.
That sentence says so much within the context of the story and yet probably doesn’t mean a thing to someone who hasn’t read the novel.
I found Lavinia to be a page turner, but barely. LeGuin held my attention with exactly the amount of effort required to keep me reading and no more. There’s nothing flashy or explosive about the novel. It was the depth of the main character that kept me glued.
Lavinia is a novel that will stay with me for a long time. I’m not sure what gives it that lasting quality, but I know that I’ll think of Lavinia and her life repeatedly over the next few years. The story is simple, running it a straight line without straying too far from the life of the protaganist, but it cuts a deep furrow.