Never Let Me Go/Kazuo Ishiguro: Reflections

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I stood in the Orlando airport bookstore at 6 AM, searching for a story.  There were the usual suspects—Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Cutting for Stone, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Half-Broke Horses, Sarah's Key, Little Bee—some of which I've already read, some of which I'll never read, and then there was Never Let Me Go, the Kazuo Ishiguro novel recently made into a feature film.  If I knew little about the story, I knew I'd loved Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, and so I put my fifteen dollars down and made my way toward the gate.

Readers of this blog know that I'm not a fan of a certain kind of science fiction, and for the first several chapters of this book, I found myself in unfamiliar territory, reading of "carers" and "donors" and "completing." My guide to this strange land was a narrator, Kathy, who gets to explaining it all in her good time.  She retraces her childhood history in an odd school called Hailsham.  She tells us of her best friends, Ruth and Tommy.  She withholds, for a time, the worst of the facts animating her life only because those facts are to her mere (or almost mere) matters of fact, and because what interests her is what interests the rest of us:  love, friendship, fate, the tiny nearly indiscriminate details that turn a life this way or that.  She is calm when she has no right to be.  She is human, except, perhaps, she is not.  She is bound to a destiny laid out for her by a world that has found a way to cure the big diseases, at a cost she never labels horrific, grotesque, nightmarish, unright.  She leaves such judgments to us. 

As a narrator, Kathy relies on no flourishes, few metaphors, a paucity of adjectives.  She reveals what she remembers in the order that she remembers it, and so that means we read through a maze of clauses that begin, "What happened then was..." or "Before I get to that I should explain..." or "Another thing I noticed was...."  Kathy's not a writer.  She's a carer.  Kathy's not like you and me; why should she dress her story up?  If I typically want more from the sentences on the page, I was, by mid-book, perfectly satisfied with Ishiguro's artistic choices and anxious to see the story through.

I finished the book just now, having risen early to complete it.  I am left haunted—moved as every human being should be by the prospect of a world in which health (the power of some over the destiny of others) is the awful great divide. 

I had, by accident, left The Quickening Maze at home.  I'll start on that this afternoon.


bermudaonion said...

I've been curious about this book for a while, so I was glad to read your review.

Kelsey C said...

I read this recently too! I found the story disturbing, but in a strangely beautiful way. In the beginning, I was frustrated by the unembellished way of words and the obscurity of one crucial thing I though maybe I'd missed. By the end, I realized there can be sentiment in matter-of-factness (as I sat crying with the final pages in a public place) and Kathy only withheld from us that which was withheld from her.

I'm anxious to see the film adaptation because I read Kazuo Ishiguro was closely involved with the production; plus, I imagine Carrie and Keira make quite a dynamic duo.

Thank you for reviewing this book, Beth! I very much enjoying reading/hearing what you see in and think about things.

Lilian Nattel said...

It takes a lot of discipline for a writer to withhold his ability with words for the sake of the character and story.

Beth F said...

I never could finish Remains of the Day and I don't think I even made it through the movie. Thus I haven't rushed out to read Never Let Me Go. I'm still not sure, but now perhaps I'll add it to my list.

The1stdaughter said...

Your review of this book was much more lovely than my own, but I still felt very similar. It was absolutely haunting and incredibly beautifully written. I loved how he slowly unraveled the story to show what was truly happening. Gorgeous writing. Now I can't wait to see the movie, which I have heard turned out quite well.

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