Monday, July 21, 2008
Books - Book Review - Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
International Fiction Book Club of New Orleans was Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I said to the members that once I read (I wish that I could remember where) that Ishiguro was more English than the English in his writings. They generally agreed, especially with Remains of the Day. They also commented that he has an outsider's view of England and he can see things a little differently from other British writers.
Some of the members didn't like the slow pace of the story, especially in the beginning, even though this technique helped in the revelation of the plot. It's as though the readers find out about the children of Halisham School, just like the children (and later adults) discover the truth about their purpose in life.
Early in the novel, Kathy, a main character mentions donations. "Clones!" I mentally shouted; I have seen so many sci-fi shows about clones that I know what it entails. But, Ishiguro takes his time to reveal this fact. But this work is not sci-fi; there are no slick gadgets or super advanced technology here. The main purpose is to show that the children are humans and that they have souls.
Set in present day Britain, children are bred to become organ donors. Some questions are never answered: who donates their cells to create the clones, do these cell donors get first dibs on an organ in the future, how much does the general public know, do the children have different blood types, who decides which organ to take, or are organs taken in the order that is needed for the clone to survive (kidneys and pieces of liver - first, heart and brains - last?)
The children seem to have an ideal childhood. They are encouraged to be creative and don't have to spend too much time learning harder subjects. Despite being in this nuturing environment, some of the characters have low self-esteem and need to have a lot of attention. Another clue of who they are is revealed at this point; no child ever leaves the campus, not even for Christmas and summer break, and they never receive visitors except for Madame, and she is only interested in the art.
When they graduate, they can spend their time reading, have intimate relationships, travel, and other activities without having too worry too much about money (even though it's cold in the cottages in the winter.) As they become older, they become carers of organ donors before them, and then organ donors themselves. They meet young adults from other schools and find out that their lives were not pleasant and seemed more like a 19th workhouse.
Another set of questions now arise: who decides the time that the carers begin, how long can a carer keep working, who decides the carer's schedule, where do they live, with other carers or by themselves for the first time in their lives?
Another disturbing aspect of the novel is that none of the clones tried to escape. Were they so well brain-washed (Stockholm syndrome?) that they could not imagine another future for themselves? Did they need to be in groups so badly that they don't want to take off by themselves, because they can't picture themselves alone in the world? Never in the novel is this donation of organs called THE NOBLE CAUSE.
Despite knowing all these facts, Kathy seems the most committed to being the best carer in England. Is she delusional or does she really enjoy being the mother during the completion process?
This novel raises more questions than it answers and makes us think of what comprises a human. When it was written, there were a lot of advances in genetics, including Dolly the Sheep.
I recently picked up the Spring Paris Review that featured an Interview with Ishiguro.
He says that Never Let Me Go is "my cheerful novel...I felt for the first time I had given myself permission to focus on the positive aspect of human beings.Ok, they might be flawed... I wanted them not to be preoccupied with their status or their material possessions. I wanted them to care more about each other and setting things right. So for me, it was saying positive things about human beings against the rather bleak fact of our mortality."
It's very interesting to read an author's take on his work. I didn't think it was cheerful, but creepy and thought provoking at the same time. The members of the book group also enjoyed reading it, but none of them thought it was a happy novel.
I just learned about the End of the World Reading Challenge, so it goes on the list.