THE BEGINNING PLACE
This short novel, which could probably be read with equal pleasure by any intelligent person between the ages of 14 and 90, is a paradox of sorts: a fantasy about the limitations of fantasy. The protagonists are two young people at emotional dead ends, separately trapped in intolerable family situations which have driven Hugh to overweight and dumb loneliness, Irene to cynical hostility. At the extremity of despair, Hugh stumbles on the nameless twilit country and simple town that have been Irene's secret refuge for years. With his coming, the serene changelessness of this haven gives way to a fear which the people of the land cannot or will not explain. Hugh and Irene, allowing themselves to be packed off by their kindly hosts on a mission of deliverance, find that they themselves have been delivered up to a monster as the latest in a series of ignominious sacrifices. Their victory at last restores them to the light of common humanity in their own world. In a mode light-years away from the recent Malafrena (p. 951) or most of her previous fantasy or science fiction, Le Guin achieves miracles of tact and lucidity; the allegorical implications of the story are touched on with an understated sweetness that can only be described as masterly. An impeccable parable--and some of the best work ever by a humane, high-minded, underappreciated novelist.