Monday, January 09, 2006

Never Let Me Go

What a wonderful novel. And what a lost opportunity, to read it going in without knowing the key plot point that the whole novel is built around. From many a review, I knew the big plot point that Ishiguro dances around for easily the first third of the book, and having read the book now knowing that bit of info I can say I very much wish I hadn't--it's pretty clear that the book's remarkable effect would have been much more effective. So read the book, and if you don't know the plot, for heaven's sake, don't read further. And don't read any reviews. And don't let anyone talk to you about it. Just get it and read it.

Leave now if you don't know the basic plot of the book already, OK?


Never Let Me Go is an account of a woman's childhood and early adulthood, written as a kind of memoir. Our narrator, Kathy H. is remembering the days she spent at a boarding school in England (Halisham) as a child and the friend she made there and the experiences she and they shared. The hook is that Halisham is a boarding school for clones that have been created expressly to provide organs to "regular" people later in life. This fact isn't revealed until fairly late in the book. And what Ishiguro makes clear much, much later, pretty much at the end of the book, is that Halisham and a few other schools like it are anomalies, failed experiments. We learn that these clones typically are brought up in very poor conditions, and that Halisham and its ilk were a liberal experiment to try and treat the clones better, to treat them as people. This is all very chilling stuff, and could make (and surely has--the notion of raising human clones for their organs is hardly new) a very good sci-fi novel. But this isn't it. The sci-fi stuff is barely discussed, and we get pretty much everything from a fairly detached, very personal viewpoint. And this is what makes the novel such a remarkable reading experience, the slow spooling out of this quasi-mystery of what Kathy H. and her friends are doing at the school, and what their later lives are like. The soft double-speak of "donations," and "carers," and "completing" do a superb job of both masking and enhancing the creepiness. And yet Ishiguro's skill in creating his characters, especially the three central characters - Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth - is the book's greatest strength. At its heart, this novel is about people, and we come to identify with Kathy completely through the first-person narration. Make no mistake - this is a heartbreaking novel, but one of the most rewarding reads I've enjoyed in quite some time.

Until Whenever

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