Thursday, February 24, 2011

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

What an amazing book!  Never Let Me Go is so subtle and tightly wound, Kazuo Ishiguro crafts an amazingly real and chilling world, so close to our own.  His writing draws this line of narrative where everything is contained, oppressed, obedient, and doomed.  Well, doomed is too exuberant.  There's doom coming for each of them, but doom is too emotive a word for the passive acceptance of the horrible slow death that waits for all the characters.

Most of the novel is a finely told story of love and friendship among children and teens as they transition into adulthood, with the added twist of the dystopian wider situation they are all in.  As a tale of teen-dom and childhood, it's an impressive portrayal of that difficult and fraught time.  Ishiguro has captured the difficulties and casual cruelties of those friendships, particularly for girls.  Kids are cruel, and are the best enforcers of social norms and behaviour out there.  It's a big part of learning society, and this has been closely observed by Ishiguro.  The opressive and secretive, yet everyday nature of their childhood in Hailsham, at first glance a boarding school, does its work indoctrinating all the children to their "duty" as donors, keeping themselves and each other in line.  This eventually makes them all turn up, repeatedly, for their slow deaths. 

I could tell it was going to end badly, and it did.  This matched the contained tone of the rest of the book, it was simply obvious, and could not be struggled against.  Finishing the book was like waking up, it was so convincing and oppressive.

I've been thinking a lot about this novel since finishing it, which in my opinion is a sign of a great book.  I wanted to struggle on behalf of Kathy and Tommy, I wanted one of them to rebel, try to escape, make a wider appeal to the society that was doing this to them, something!  The passivity that binds the book together, making even the appeal for a "deferral" to Madame seem a struggle too great, was frustrating, but intentionally so.  And while we would all like to think, as readers, that we would be different, try to escape, change the mind of society, or something, the truth is that in the same situation, with the same background, how many of us would do the same as Ruth and Kathy and Tommy?  Their fate just is.  No point struggling. 

Never Let Me Go is a powerful statement about what becomes acceptable in society, and how social indoctrination works on each of us.  It's not really about the horror of donation, or the morality and issue of cloning, or any of it's dystopian elements.  This book is about how society works on us, and how we work on each other.  It is about how, at the heart of it, we humans do this to ourselves.

I really liked this book.


Another one not on the current, or the core list, it was on the 2006 list, so that kinda counts?  I don't think it should have been removed, I was very impressed.  I read this as an ebook on Kindle for iPad.

ETA - I was googling reading reviews of this book, and found this list of Books that made a difference to Kazuo Ishiguro, at Oprah magazine, complete with Ishiguro's explanations, worth a look!

1 comment:

Kristi said...

I loved this book! It is really haunting how accepting they are of their fate. You're right--they can't really fight against it. That's what makes it so heart-breaking. I love Ishiguro's subtle writing style. He amazes me.