First, hi! I’m new to the blog and thrilled to be here.
Now… to the books!
On Monday I finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I am a rabid fan of Ishiguro. He is on my list of “The Five People I Most Want to Meet.” Therefore, my comments should be read with the understanding that there may have been some rose-colored glasses between me and the text. [Click the “more” link for the rest of the post]
That being said, the novel is a victory for Ishiguro and will be thrust into the canon along with 1984 and Flowers for Algernon. What struck me most about the book (and here come the spoilers) is the distance that Ishiguro purposefully places between the reader and the narrator. There is a cold, clinician’s touch in the handling of the characters and their relationships with each other. This coldness serves to make the reader question their own perceptions of the clones. Are we truly sympathetic toward them, or do we, like Madame and Miss Emily, shrink from their presence and have to avert our eyes?
Those familiar with Ishiguro’s writing style might argue that this distance is present in all of his books and is not different here. However, there are so many devices used to create this distance and emphasize it that I don’t think it can be anything less than deliberate.
The dialogue, I find, is stilted to an unusual degree even for Ishiguro. This alone makes the reader feel outside the story. While I was caught up in the suspense of the story as it moved along I felt uneasy with the narrative. Unsettled might be a better word. There was no warmth. While I gathered pretty quickly that Kathy and Tommy were destined to be more than friends I found her descriptions of her feelings to be minimalist and therefore ineffective. Is that Ishiguro’s voice or is it Kathy’s? I believe that Ishiguro set up the narrative this way.
Another technique to further the distance is the way Kathy and Ruth’s relationship is constructed. Although we peak through the doors at more intimate moments between them, where they cozy up and have long talks, we never get much detail about those talks. To me, those details are not extraneous and would have made Kathy, and perhaps even Ruth, more emotionally accessible. But, while we get play-by-play detail on their arguments, the nice times are glossed over. I came away not caring very much for Ruth.
DJ Cayenne mentioned in his post on the book that he questions why Ishiguro chose to set the book in the 1990’s. I think it is to make us question whether or not a subculture like that of the clones could possibly exist under our noses without our knowing. Ishiguro loves to play with our perceptions of memory and time and I think this was simply a technique to make us stop and take note of the current scientific research going on and question the end results.
There was an undercurrent of suspicion in the book. As Kathy goes from center to center to care for her donors it seems as though she’s afraid to set a toe out of line. When she and Tommy stop the car so that Tommy can scream and thrash out his anger at the world he gets covered with mud and is concerned about how to explain that to the people at his center. Even at Hailsham there are repeated mentions of how little privacy there is. People are looking out of windows and skulking around. I think the undertone suggests that the clones are under watch all of the time and to escape would mean some unnamed punishment. I wonder, too, if it is possible that given Hailsham’s seclusion and the protection offered to the students if the main characters here might not have heard of escape attempts even if some have happened. Kathy, despite her occasional displays of moxie, does not strike me as a flight risk. Miss Emily tells Kathy and Tommy that most clones are not offered a chance to have a childhood. She makes it sound as though they are farmed and penned like animals. If a person is treated that way from “birth” they would have no context for “freedom” and “escape” and therefore proceed through the donor process without a thought as to alternatives.
Obviously the book asks many questions and provides no answers. It has made me pause and contemplate things like racism and class-ism and how we relate to our fellow humans. In so many instances there have been entire peoples that assumed that other peoples lacked souls. This book provides an interesting view of that problem.