Wednesday, July 1, 2009

125. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

History: This book was written in 2005.
Plot: The novel describes the life of Kathy H., a young woman of 31, focusing at first on her childhood at an unusual boarding school and eventually her adult life. The story takes place in a dystopian Britain, in which human beings are cloned to provide donor organs for transplants. Kathy and her classmates have been created to be donors, though the adult Kathy is temporarily working as a "carer," someone who supports and comforts donors as they are made to give up their organs and, eventually, submit to death. As in Ishiguro’s other works, the truth of the matter is made clear only gradually, via veiled but suggestive language and situations.
The novel is divided in three parts, chronicling the three phases of the lives of its main characters.
The first part is set at Hailsham, a boarding school where the children are brought up and educated. The teachers there mysteriously encourage the students to produce various forms of art. The best works are chosen by a woman known only as Madame and are said to be collected in a gallery. That Hailsham is not a normal school is also indicated by the emphasis on frequent medical checks and other odd details.
While the students of Hailsham are often cliquey, capricious and cruel, the three main characters — Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy — develop a stable friendship during this time. Kathy herself seems to have resigned herself to being an observer of other people, and the choices they make, instead of making her own choices. She often takes the role of the peacemaker in the clique, especially between Tommy and Ruth. Tommy is an isolated boy who has difficulty in relating to others and is often the target of bullies, while Ruth is an extrovert with strong opinions.
In the second part, the characters, now young adults, move to the "Cottages", residential complexes where they start to have contacts with the external world and they are relatively free to do what they want. A romantic relationship develops between Ruth and Tommy, while Kathy explores her sexuality but without forming any stable connections. While at the Cottages, they travel to Norfolk. The third part describes Tommy's and Ruth's becoming donors and Kathy's becoming a carer. Kathy cares for Ruth and then, after Ruth "completes" (Ishiguro's evocative euphemism for death), Kathy takes care of Tommy. Before her death, Ruth expresses regret over coming between Kathy and Tommy, and urges them to pursue a relationship with one another, and to seek to defer their donations based on their love. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, Kathy and Tommy visit Madame, where they also meet their old headmistress, Miss Emily. During this visit, they learn why artistic production had always been emphasized at Hailsham. They also learn that deferring their donations, a possibility rumoured among clones for many years, is impossible. The clones learn that Hailsham in general was an experiment, an effort to improve the conditions for clones and perhaps alter the attitudes of society, which prefers to view the clones merely as non-human sources of organs. The novel ends, after the death of Tommy, on a note of resignation, as Kathy accepts her own inevitable fate as a donor and her eventual "completion."
Review: Ishiguro's intention is both more personal and more literary. The theme of cloning lets him push to the limit ideas he's nurtured in earlier fiction about memory and the human self; the school's hothouse seclusion makes it an ideal lab for his fascination with cliques, loyalty and friendship. The voice he's written for Kathy H. is a feat of imaginative sympathy and technique. He works out intricate ways of showing her naïvete, her liabilities as an interpreter of what she sees, but also her deductive smarts, her sensitivity to pain and her need for affection. She has a capacity to grow and love that is heroic under the circumstances. Often quite wittily, Ishiguro shows how the Hailsham kids, cut off from outside contact, manage to fill in the blanks of their world with taboos, jokes, fantasies, fads and paranoid rumors of the unknown. The eeriest feature of this alien world is how familiar it feels. It's like a stripped-down, haiku vision of children everywhere, fending off the chaos of existence by inventing their own rules.
Opening Line: “My name is Kathy H.”
Closing Line: “I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”
Quotes: All the same, some of it must go in somewhere. It must go in, because by the time a moment like that comes along, there’s a part of you that’s been waiting. Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.”
Rating: Excellent.

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