Saturday, June 26, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Never Let Me Go'
The Book: Never Let Me Go
The Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
How I Found It: Hearing about the upcoming film version (October) made me put it on my mental list, and seeing the absolutely gorgeous trailer last week made me rush to pick it up.
The Review: Our narrator is Kathy H, who describes herself at the start as a "carer". We learn very quickly that she is caring for organ donors after their donations. And then we learn that Kathy grew up at Hailsham, a boarding school for clones raised solely for the purpose of organ donation. Kathy is one of these clones.
From the time she was born to when she was in her late teens, Kathy lived at Hailsham with the other students, becoming close friends with popular, pretty Ruth and temperamental but caring Tommy. Hailsham students are always reminded of how special they are, though one teacher, Miss Lucy, tries to tell the students that they have no hope of leading a normal life, as their path is already set out for them.
The novel is divided into three sections. One chronicles Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy's early lives at Hailsham. The second recounts a period where, now older teens, all three live with other clones at the Cottages, where they enter into the real world after the secluded confines of Hailsham. The last section takes place as the three finally reunite again as adults, and as Kathy attempts to piece together what really happened between the three of them throughout their lives.
It is difficult to describe how deeply this book touched me without giving much away. All I can say is, if you want to read this, do not find out much about it before doing so. I will try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. But stay away from plot spoilers and maybe even stay away from the movie trailer. Just go into it blind.
The story, at its core, is somewhat disturbing because it can so easily happen in the future. This is one of the most realistic dystopian novels I've ever read, because Ishiguro doesn't go overboard on the futuristic details. We simply learn from the beginning that this is an alternate version of England in the late 1990s, and there are barely any futuristic touches besides the cloning. Technologies such as Walkmans and cassette tapes pop up. It is a familiar world, which is what makes it so disconcerting.
It is also a story about humanity and about love. An important plot point hinges on whether the clones can feel as regular people do, which is another part of what makes the story so disarming. We witness each one of Kathy's emotions, we see her feeling exactly as we would in a similar situation, and then we realize that some people would rather believe that the clones are not human at all. This makes the reader reflect on emotions, on ethics, and on what science can do to both.
The three core characters were well-developed, though Kathy, as our narrator, is the most well-drawn of the three. Ruth sometimes doesn't come off as much more than the quintessential popular girl and rival, but in the end she is revealed to have depth and perception beyond what the reader could have expected. Tommy manages to evoke pathos as the reader comes to understand his struggle with his lack of creativity--an important part of the clones' world, though its full importance is not revealed until late in the novel--and his confused relationships with Ruth and Kathy. There are numerous other peripheral characters in the story, some of whom (Chrissie and Rodney, Miss Lucy, etc.) border on stereotype, but they are merely there to help the story along, so it didn't matter much if they were developed.
This is the most I've cried during a book since The Time Traveler's Wife, and I cried a lot there. The first day I started reading it, I got teary twice without even realizing I'd become so emotionally invested in the characters. It snuck up on me that way. By the end, I wanted the characters to succeed and was happy when they did and cried when they didn't. I am still thinking about the ending, which made me sob, and I have a feeling I will be thinking about it for a very, very long time, something that I can only say for a few books I read each year.
This novel transcends the dystopian genre and becomes something greater. It becomes a story about humanity as a whole, both the humanity in Ishiguro's fictional world and about humanity in our world. I can see why it was a finalist for a prestigious literary prize. I hope that anyone who is interested in well-written, incredibly moving fiction gives this one a try and finds as much beauty and sorrow in it as I did, and I hope that Hollywood manages to capture that. Very highly recommended to almost anyone who has an interest in dystopian fiction or in well-written pieces of literature.