Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This weekend has been exciting, though from this point forward the week itself doesn’t look very promising. I have driver’s ed and work to worry about. I might have to make extra trips to the library just to keep my spirits up.

That doesn’t matter right now, though. This Friday, Much Ado About Nothing opened at the Theatre at Monmouth, and my sisters and father and I all went to the opening night performance, and it was wonderful. Though I must admit I’ve never been particularly fond of this play (at that point I had just seen Shakespeare repeat himself too often to be impressed, and quite frankly it annoys me to no end how this prank that their friends play on them somehow manifests itself into genuine love), being at the theatre again makes me happy. There was a wonderful reception and we left feeling good.

Tonight, they opened The Compleat Works of Shakespeare, Abridged. If you’re on of the unfortunate sort who haven’t seen this play, do so now. There’s a DVD of it being performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. It’s one of the most fantastically hilarious plays I’ve ever seen- it’s every play Shakespeare’s ever written, condensed into one three-man show. Half of it’s improv, and the other half is kinda-sorta the works of William Shakespeare. I love it endlessly. They’re putting it on three more times this summer, and I want to see every one!

Every time I dress up to go to the theatre, I feel like I’m going on a date or about to meet my prince or something. It hasn’t happened yet. For the record, in case anyone was thinking of asking me out anytime soon (just a thought), I think movie dates are lame, but I would totally accept a theatre date. Just so you know.

Moving on.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this novel since, I suppose, around September. The school librarian used to recommend it to me every other week or so, but for some reason I never listened.

Never Let Me Go is about a world in which science has found a way to clone humans, specifically for the purpose of harvesting their organs. For all that that sounds very 70’s B-movie sci-fi, I didn’t actually realize that this book was sci-fi until about halfway in. The inside cover description did not tell you any of that, even though it’s in every other description of the book anywhere. I actually found out on Wikipedia, and I felt like I’d been spoiled. Says the spoiler-phobe.

The book is told from the perspective of Kathy, a clone who is now around thirty years old and working as a ‘carer’ in a facility for recuperating ‘donors,’ clones who have already begun donating their organs. The story is told in flashback, for the most part, thought it’s not actually that simply linear. Every time you’re settled comfortably into one direction, she’ll bring introduce another line and explain this line and then how it relates to the first and then complete the first and really, if it wasn’t so good, it would be completely infuriating.

Now, the idea is, since clones can’t actually donate until they’re adults, and they think and act exactly like normal humans, they need to be raised from infancy, through childhood, until they can be on their own. Kathy did her growing up in a ‘school’ called Hailsham, with her friends Ruth and Tommy. Her flashback begins when Kathy remembers a day at Hailsham where she, with her group of friends, are watching the boys play football and Tommy throws a tantrum after the other boys play a trick on him. When they were young (around ten or eleven in this flashback, I think) Tommy was famous for his temper, a joke throughout all of Hailsham. On this day, it was Kathy who went up to him in the middle of the football field and talked him down.

Tommy grew out of his temper. What he didn’t grow out of was the inability to create art- something which was a very big deal at Hailsham. The students were heavily encouraged to be ‘creative,’ and were rewarded by being able to exchange their work for others’. Before ever Exchange, however, Hailsham would be visited by a mysterious woman known simply as Madame, who would select the best of their work and take it away. Thought the students theorized about what Madame could want with their work, they were never given any real answers.

Much of the student’s lives are surrounded by this sort of crypticness, though Kathy and the students are much less bothered about it than the reader is. The thing is, they know what their purpose is. They’re told what they are, what they’re for. With this kind of background, you would be expect this to be a story about one student who decided to buck the system and live as a human being, but it’s not. At all. Not a single one of the students ever seems to mind that this is their future, to gradually allow themselves to be killed for a plague of people who don’t even want to think about their existence. Even to Kathy it never occurs that their might be something else.

So, this is basically a book that tells the story of three friends living out their lives exactly as they always knew they would, without any complications or rebellions at all. That explained, I don’t know how to tell you that this book is not boring in the slightest, not for a single sentence on a single page. It’s mostly about the relationship between the three main characters, and a study into humanity. As the friendship between Kathy and Ruth evolves, we see them grow around each other, sometimes clashing, in exactly the same way that real friends will do once they’ve known each other long enough. When Ishiguro writes it, it makes perfect sense, the way you can be completely self-righteous and ready to tear her a new one at one moment, then all of a sudden and without any help from her suddenly realizing exactly why she’s been doing this annoying thing and trying at least to be supportive. There are be-the-bigger-person moments, and I-really-don’t-want-to-deal-with-you-right-now moments, and they’re all very genuine and believable and everything we’ve experienced before.

Then, of course, the story is interesting because, though Kathy and her friends are growing up exactly as they knew they would, it’s still very different from the way a normal human child grows into adulthood. This is an entirely different world- though it’s never stated what era it takes place in, the tech they mention makes it feel like the eighties, perhaps nineties. Around when Kathy is thirteen, Walkmans (Walkmen?) for tapes come on to the scene (I make that distinction because when I was about ten, portable CD-players were called Walmans, and were the coolest thing I’d ever owned).

Anyway, the narration is told in three parts: the first part is Hailsham, the second part the Cottage, and the third part Kathy’s adulthood- being a carer, basically. The book ends before she becomes a donor. It’s interesting, but there are some questions about their lifestyle that Ishiguro never answers. For example, when Kathy is a carer, where does she live? It’s never suggested that clones live in the same sort of houses as regular people- there’s always been someplace set off for them. This is never explained. Also, Kathy has been a carer for twelve years (longer than usual), and clones are given ‘notices’ when they’re expected to make a donation. Once you’ve started donating, you’re no longer a carer. At the end of her twelve year, Kathy is going to be asked to step down as a carer, but she hasn’t gotten a notice asking her to begin donating yet. So where will she go now?

On the other hand, there’s a very powerful emotional scene at the end of the book where all of the big questions, the things that the students themselves wondered about their existence, those are answered. And that is very satisfying.

I must admit that after all the hype I’ve heard for this book- well, it deserved every word. It was wonderful and I’ll add it to my personal rec list. It made me think, it was never boring, and I felt very strongly for the characters. There’s not much more I can ask from a book I decided on a whim to finally read.

Now the truth is, though I know it may be frowned upon, I’m very fond of movie adaptations. I know, they’re never as good, but they can still be good, you know? If I liked a book, I will be interested in seeing the movie- unless strictly told not to, as is the case for such novels as The Time-Traveler’s Wife and Girl with the Pearl Earring. Both books I loved, that a good friend more-or-less forbade me to see as films. Anyway, Never Let Me Go has been made into a movie with a fantastic cast. For your pleasure, here’s the trailer to the film staring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley, which was released last year and I am now quite eager to see:

Oh, and speaking of movies, I’ve officially got plans to attend the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows Part 2 on Thursday night? Did not see that one coming. The slight kink in this plan is that I’ve not yet seen Part 1, but my friend promises this will change between now and then. Righto. Also opening this Friday is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I reviewed a while back. Now that’s a movie I’m excited to see!

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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