Style and Technique

In her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, “A novelist’s business is lying.” She noted further that novelists may “use all kinds of facts to support their tissue of lies” and that “this weight of verifiable place-event-phenomenon-behavior makes the reader forget that he is reading a pure invention.” Her story “Sur” foregrounds this “peculiar and devious” practice, for in it the factive and the fictive, explorer’s log and wanderer’s yarn, strive for dominance. The fictive wins.

The level, reportorial tone of “Sur” is established partly by the narrator’s distance in time from the events she reports—memory, like reflections in a glass, levels what would in fact be three-dimensionally alive—but more concretely by the selection and organization of details in the story told. The account of the origin of the expedition, for example, carefully outlines the sequence of the narrator’s growing interest in Antarctica, naming names, indicating dates, supplying the reader with the sources of her knowledge. However, these are also the sources of her desire, and the reader cannot miss the vocabulary of emotion that laces the list of facts (“my imagination was caught,” “I . . . followed with excitement,” “filled me with longing”), the telling hyperbole of “reread a thousand times,” and the romantic inversion of the world in the phrase “last Thule of the South,”...

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