Looking For Utopia…

One of the people I talk most to about books is my mother, who many of you will know teaches English Literature. We were having a catch up on the phone earlier this evening, initially to sort the logistics of my little sister coming to stay while she does work experience with me but of course it turned to books we’ve been reading and Mum might be teaching, and she asked me a question that genuinely stumped me… You see she is reading Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway and LOVING it (can’t think who bought her a copy?) and I mentioned Naomi’s debut The Godless Boys was a dystopian tale of Newcastle (where Mum went to university and took me with her) but set in the past and now she wants to use it in her dystopian class. That is when the question came up which stumped me, she wondered if I knew of any books not set in a dystopia but in a utopia, I couldn’t think of one.

Off to find Utopia…

So, being completely stumped (did I mention that?) I told her that I would ask all of you if you could recommend any utopian books, I bet you can do much better than me. So help my mother out if you will!

P.S Sorry about the long explanation, but I am really nosey and love listening into other people’s bookish chats and so I thought you might be that way inclined.

19 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

19 responses to “Looking For Utopia…

  1. Plato’s republic? (Not that that is fiction….) Maybe it’s my preference for misery and the macabre, but I can only think of dystopias.

    I’ve wikiepdia-ed it (I’m sorry, I couldn’t think where else to search) and it has a few:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Utopian_novels

  2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin is called an “ambiguous utopia”

  3. I guess the obvious one is Sir Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia; (which is actually where the word comes from, I believe).

    But there are other ways of finding Utopias in fiction. One way of interpreting Orwell’s 1984 is to say that Winston Smith isn’t an idealistic rebel trapped in a dystopia.. rather, he’s a madman or malcontent who doesn’t realise he’s living in a perfect utopia (everyone works, nobody starves, etc.). It’s tenuous, sure… but you could ask why him and only him seems to have a problem with the world they live in. It’s not an argument I’d go for… but it gets you thinking about the notion of Utopia, and the differing possible versions of it.

  4. Rosemary

    Well, doesn’t Aex Garland’s The Beach start out in Utopia?…though of course it doesn’t end there…Or maybe that’s not the kind of thing your Mum is thinking of – I am woefully ignorant about all these modern genres🙂

  5. All utopias ultimately become dystopias, right? The only book I can think of that actively markets itself as exploring a utopian society is a YA book written by Lauren de Stefano called Perfect Ruin. I doubt it is what your mother is really looking for, though.

  6. Susie Vereker

    The Stepford Wives seems like a Utopia at first

  7. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s about an all-female utopian society stumbled upon by three men.

    Someone above mentioned The Dispossessed, but that is more a book about a world that proclaims to be “utopian” which is slowly revealed to be anything but.

  8. Daughters of a Coral Dawn by Katherine V. Forrest is a lesbian utopia story about building an all women society on another planet.
    I also like The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, precisely because it looks at supposed utopias and shows that a society that is utopian for one person might be anything but for other people.

  9. Like Christine already said, all the utopian societies I’ve read about turn out to be dystopias (no such thing as utopia, you know). Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of those books.

  10. When I was a teenager I was really into reading both utopian & dystopian fiction. One excellent utopian book you should have her read is B.F. Skinner’s novel Walden Two. Skinner was a behavioural psychologist and had some questionable ideas about the way people could/should be raised, but this novel presents Thoreau’s idea of the individual living as self-sufficiently as possible within a larger society to a community level. So the community shares all the labour and possessions needed to subsit with each other, but have as little interaction with the rest of society as possible. An actual commune in Virginia called Twin Oakes was founded in the 70s based on the principles in this novel and it is still going today. I once spent a week there. It’s a beautiful place and the novel has a lot of interesting ideas about more sustainable ways of living.

  11. I think I’ve only come across two in my reading over the years. Erewhon by Samuel Butler and (as mentioned in an earlier comment) Utopia by Sir Thomas Moore.

    I think the issue with finding a utopic book, as opposed to a dystopic, is that if there was truly a utopia in the book, there’d be no conflict and no story. That’s probably why no one’s sitting around writing about a utopia in the modern world. But to counteract that, I’d suggest looking at dystopian societies like “Tomcat” said. One POV doesn’t always make the society bad or evil. That one POV that goes against the society might just be the one person (or small group) with an issue, while the rest of the world actually accepts the utopia because it IS good. (At least that could lead to heated discussions and entertaining ways to pick a book apart.)

  12. No one’s mentioned the wonderful “News From Nowhere” by William Morris. Also I’d disagree a bit with some of the descriptions of “The Dispossessed,” — I’d say it’s more about how hard creating utopia is, but given that the effort is still worth it.

  13. Plato’s “Republic”?

  14. AnnP

    I think Huxley also explores this in “Island” but it is a long time since I read it.

  15. Way back when I was a student I read one of Robert Graves’s lesser known novels, Seven Days in New Crete. I think it’s the only novel I’ve read so far that was set in a Utopia. The only thing is that I can’t remember how much I enjoyed it, although I certainly didn’t dislike it.

  16. Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Verge of Time is set in two diverging futures, one of which is a dystopia and one a utopia of sorts. Read it as a teenager and loved it. It’s on my ‘to be reread’ list.

  17. Someone already pointed out the obvious Thomas More Utopia. I would add to that Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.

  18. Mary Grover

    Perhaps the problem is that in a utopia there isn’t enough conflict to make a good novel. The only possibility that springs to my mind is “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton, the book about Shangri-La.

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