Book Review: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

“Don’t be afraid of your unconscious mind! It’s not a black pit of nightmares. Nothing of the kind! It is the wellspring of health, imagination, creativity.” - The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven is a riveting tale of power and ambition and the dangerous balance that must be struck between the two. Our main character is George Orr. He is a man whose dreams can shape reality, realigning the universe to his unconscious thoughts. Our antagonist is Dr. Haber, George’s psychiatrist and sleep specialist. Haber quickly realises the potential of George’s dreams and begins to manipulate them for what he believes is best for humanity. We are also joined by Heather Lelache, a lawyer George turns to in order to escape his mandatory therapy with Dr. Haber.


Heather steals every scene she’s in and is by far the most well developed of the three. She is the only person in the story you really get to know. You get to see all the facets of her personality and dimensions as a character. Heather quickly became the only character I personally cared about. This makes her absence in the last third of the book all the more disappointing, with her character being replaced by a paralegal with a much more muted personality. In contrast, George has almost next to no personality by design, he is to be the most average of men, not too aggressive, yet not too meek. Haber by contract is a force of a man, bold and brash and unwavering in his convictions. These two are so two dimensional it is hard to keep interest in them.


On that note, The Lathe of Heaven is much more about the journey rather than the destination. The premise, plot, and worldbuilding is enough to carry the story despite a severe lack of character development. I became very invested in the world that was being shaped, rather than the characters that inhabited it, eager to see what each chapter had changed for much of the novel. This is one of the times I feel the brevity of the story is a strong point. While the unique world was enough to keep me interested, I feel like if the novel were any longer I might not have regarded it as fondly. The last third feels unpolished and lacks the cohesive storytelling and superb worldbuilding of the early chapters. This all leads up to a messy ending that feels very abrupt and unsatisfying.


I very much enjoyed my time with The Lathe of Heaven, but I left it wanting a bit more. I am going to read more of Le Guin’s work as she has a writing style I am unfamiliar with and definitely intrigued by.