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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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The premise it sets up is a compelling one. A group of students meant for a specific purpose live a reasonably idyllic life at a kind of boarding school before heading off to their rather sad destiny - told by Kathy who has been a carer for a while, it focuses on three friends, their ups and downs and slowly dawning understanding of various aspects of their lives.
For me it didn't do anything or execute well. There was simply no purpose to this that I could see or that I could engage with. The characters were pale shadows. The only thing I came away with was that Kathy was cold, Tommy was stupid and Ruth was horrible. I mean I'm sure there might be hidden depths there but I just wasn't seeing them at all. It was sad for sure, but there was no real tension. There was no promise that anything would change for the group or that they could avoid their destiny or even that they cared much about that themselves - I think that was the main problem for me. The missed opportunity to explore the central theme through the thoughts and actions of the participants in the drama. They all kind of just drifted along to their ultimate fate, occasionally asking insipid questions but never really getting beyond a half hearted nod in the direction of answers.
For my own personal tastes in a novel like this I need at least a sliver of hope even if that hope is ultimately crushed. I need a question that requires an answer even if that answer is eventually ambiguous. From about the halfway point it became obvious that none of these things applied - I kept reading with the thought that maybe there would be a "moment" or something might happen. But really Never Let Me Go is a book in which nothing really happens therefore in this instance I am more than happy for it to let me go.
So George Herbert lamented of his creator. When Frankenstein's creature met his creator on an icy glacier his response to the dilemma of his life was more robust.After cursing him he declared that although mankind reviled him he had learnt that if he couldn't be loved ,at least he could be feared. Whenever my dad watched the film he used to say- "Poor old Monster. You have to feel sorry for him." And we children knew what he meant because even then we understood that every living thing, no matter how small or imperfect. had a desire to live. love and be loved. A hungry
baby cries the house down and even the smallest spider will run for its life or bite you. Which brings us to Kath, the narrator of this story. Kath talked a lot about spiders .However, harsh and surprising it may seem by the end of this book I had a lot more respect for spiders than I did for Kath.
The overwhelming consensus in these reviews is that Kath was a hapless, helpless victim of a soulless society.My response to Kath was quite
different. Half way through the book I began to loathe her and started to find her memoir deeply suspicious.I did not expect to have this reaction.
But for me nothing is straightforward about Kath or her memoir.
If you don't want to know the end then read no further. Though the book is no thriller. Rather it's an exploration of what it means to be human. Nature or Nurture? Who we are or what we do? And how all these things can be so ambiguous that it almost becomes impossible to judge. If as
others have said the book will haunt you, then its not the plot, but questions about Kath's response to all that happen's to her.
There are three ways of reading Kath. The first is as a straightforward victim. Kath is a Carer, both by inclination and vocation. Part one we learn
of all the small ways she cares for her fellow students at Hailsham, the secluded school where they are all raised till the age of 16. She is especially close to Ruth and Tommy, about whom we learn quite a lot. Indeed the memoir is a book of remembrance for these two closest of her friends. However, by the end of the book we have also learnt exactly what this vocation of Carer actually entails. In a book full of euphemisms the title Carer must stand as the biggest of them all. Kath is proud of her caring skills. She has stayed in the job longer than most. She even opts
oversee the care of Ruth and Tommy, the two people who more to her than anyone else in the world. This of course is all very admirable, very caring, until you factor in one very significant fact.
In Kath's world caring means nursing donors through the process of donation in which their body parts or fluids are harvested. We also learn that most donors don't survive beyond four rounds of donations. We also know that Kath, Ruth Tommy and all Hailsham students are locked in this dance macabre because they are clones bred specifically for this purpose. Kath's job is to keep donors in good health in preparation for the next donation. And Carer she remains until such time as she chooses to become a donor herself. And Kath appears to be in no hurry to become a donor She admits she has stayed in the job much longer than most.
So Kath then is a woman who has not just witnessed the slow demise of those she loves, but has actively facilitated the smooth operation of the process.In short, she ensures the health and vitality of the crop, thereby maximising its bodily returns on each donor.
Why, we must ask, if she loved Ruth and Tommy, or even if she only quite liked them, did she not tell them to run, or hide or stand and fight to a bitter end of their own making, and not the medical professions. No guns are held to any heads. There is no system of state coercion or
surveillance. In fact since the age of 16 the Hailsham students appear free to live as they please, in and among wider society
Kath recollects in loving detail her relationships with Ruth and Tommy, yet she never questions their fate or her role in it. Does her memoir, her accumulation of all the tiny details of their lives together exonerate this deathly passivity? Does an act of remembrance make up for the part she played in their long creeping deaths?
For me it does not. The argument that she has been brainwashed into such passivity does not stand up. She is not a child straight out the cloistered walls of Hailsham; she is 31 year old woman. And since when has 'simply obeying orders' or 'not knowing any better' been a justification
for aiding systematic extermination? We do not accept that excuse in the real world, so why should we accept it here. In claiming to love, not hate,those she has seen through the process of donation Kath is worse than the angels of death who assisted in the gas chambers.She is not a victim but a collaborator.
So Kath can be read as monster. Someone who plays the system in order to prolong her own survival while justifying it with a pious layer of false remembrance.This explains Ruth's suspicion of her and why Tommy, ultimately, rejects her as his carer, preferring the company of other donors.The memoir becomes a hypocritical act of self-justification. Monstrous though she is , she is still very much human. Just as human as those who designed and used the hideous eugenic policy in the first place. Yet this, of course, does not explain her fathomless passivity as she prepares to offer herself for donations. Which brings me to my preferred reading of Kath. She is not human at all. In fact she is neither fresh fish or fowl but to all intents some kind of biological robot- a living simulacrum. Because in there appears to be something, something absolutely fundamental but elusive, which is missing.Frankenstein's creature had it.When he uses every scrap of his wit and guile, fighting tooth and nail for the right to live and love he proved himself all too human. Which is why we feel sorry for him. He is a living feeling human being trapped in a monstrous form. Despite being manufactured from discarded dead bodies he still possesses that vital spark, that 'unconquerable self' which propels him along, for better or worse.
Schiller said that love and hunger drove the world. Something must, because being alive is not a passive event.The impulse to live has to be overwhelmingly or else it wouldn't happen.Of course it is not unknown for humans to sacrifice their lives in the cause of a greater good or for those they love, or for some 'divine' idea. But Kath has offered up those she loves and then herself for the efficient workings of a rationalising state which even refuses to grant them human status.There is no greater good at stake here nor any divine idea; just expediency.And she is not even suicidal; she appears to lack even the will to conjure up a positive wish to die. Rather all of them find it easier to just keep on obeying orders, even if that means oblivion, than to struggle for life. So the memories flit around the edge of her conciousness.But that's it- not rage, or grief or despair just quiet heart warming memories. That is inhuman- not human. It's as if she had no real self, no real self-consciousness at all. She is hollow, absent. The lights appear to be on but nobodies at home. Perhaps this is the fatal flaw of cloning. It reproduces the body but not the animus, the spirit , the soul.
So the book ends. For me a study of absence- Bodies without desire, love, hate, hope, hurt,anger, faith, not even appetite or any real thought.
But of course every reader must make up their own mind.
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Following his Nobel Prize win, the interest in Ishiguro must have increased.Read more