Never Let Me Go Paperback – 25 Feb 2010
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Masterly... A novel with piercing questions about humanity and humaneness. (Sunday Times)
A brilliantly executed book by a master craftsman who has chosen a difficult subject: ourselves, seen through a glass, darkly. (Margaret Atwood Slate.com)
A page-turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish. (Time)
A master stoyteller ... In this deceptively sad novel, he simply uses a science-fiction framework to throw light on ordinary human life, the human soul, human sexuality, love, creativity and childhood innocence. He does so with devastating effect. (Independent)
A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel. (Sunday Times)
Brilliant. The most exact and affecting of his novels to date. (Observer)
Never Let Me Go is the acclaimed bestseller by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel, The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant. Now a major film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.See all Product description
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It isn't, by any means, a plot-driven book, it must be said, but surely few readers wanting a primarily racy read would plump for Ishiguro? My excuse is that I haven't read 'The Remains of the Day' and was unfamiliar with his work. There is an elegaic sweep to Kathy's narrative. She is describing an idyll which is in every sense past and gone, but there is a sinister subtext to her story which makes the idealised past into something of a nightmare. The author writes convincingly as a woman, which in my experience is quite rare from a male writer. We are told that the medical miracles are post-war and the period is otherwise vague, with only mentions of items such as cassettes placing it in an alternative 1970s or thereabouts, and the idioms of Kathy's speech generally steer clear of colloquialisms that would date it.
As with all intelligent fiction, it could be 'about' many things, from human companionship to the inevitability of death; from ethics to the impact of being an outsider, and it explores these themes and others with some success. My only niggles have been picked up already by some good reviews here, namely the unconvincing nature of a future in which human utopia is marred by what is effectively a slave race: Ishiguro evades description of the practicalities. This was presumably a conscious choice and must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and personally I didn't find it hard to accept, as other readers did, that the children of Hailsham bowed down meekly to their fate: I assumed that the technology which produced them was sophisticated enough to breed out wilful tendencies over time? Tommy's temper, after all, is considered unusual and destructive by his fellows. The cloned children are also institutionalised and their individuality - with the exception of their art - is discouraged. What I found more difficult, though, was the lack of context. After the atrocities of Mengele and his ilk, would the world have been so willing to condone the cloning of human beings specifically for slaughter? Why are these clones educated like other children when they will never work in the way others do and will die young? Wouldn't cloning beings like this have been a very inefficient way of securing donors gnerally? And how do these children deal with the lack of parents, when they know that other children have them (Kathy refers to motherly behaviour at least once)?
Clearly the ability to create human clones and the possibility that they will be exploited without ethical consideration are not beyond the realms of possibility and the potential ramifications are enormous, providing fertile ground for fiction, but for me, other efforts such as Churchill's play, 'A Number', have more impact. I felt that Ishiguro, in deliberately avoiding more explicit background detail, weakened my willingness to suspend disbelief. It's a haunting novel, but as with Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, I couldn't help feeling there was an indefinable something missing.
Having read it now I tend to side with those who think it's a work of genius. It's an easy book to read, with the bulk of it taking place during the narrator's school years. In the beginning it reads like a fairly conventional novel, but as it goes on you become aware of the somewhat sinister basis for the school existing (which I won't state here as it would ruin it for anyone who hasn't read the book yet).
It's a very disturbing book in many ways precisely because the characters don't act in the way you'd expect them to. The criticism that this makes it unbelievable/unrealistic is missing the point. The book is largely about the way that human beings accept unreasonable systems of power. The children are essentially being exploited, but because they've been brought up to accept it they do - just as human beings have accepted abhorrent political regimes throughout history or other crimes against humanity like slavery.
In general we tend to think that if we were living under some tyrannical political system we'd all refuse to go along with it. Yet the disturbing truth is probably what this book suggests - that when you're brought up within a particular social system it's easy to just give in and accept it. Worse, the children in the book actually seem to take pride in the school they were brought up in. They have a powerful sense of nostalgia for their school even though it's little more than a prison once you realise the purpose behind it.
Overall I found it a genuinely moving illustration of an aspect of human nature that we usually like to ignore. The fact that it's also a great page turner just elevates it even higher.
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