The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Monday, 21 July 2008

Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro

A strange one this book, narrated by one of the 3 main characters, most of the story is told in retrospect. It is about 3 people and how they grow up at school together and what happens to them afterwards. Not that strange so far and the early part reads a little bit like a more sophisticated version of Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton, children at a mixed boarding school in England in the near future, playing sports, learning, socialising. But this is not an ordinary school and our narrator, Kathy drops enough hints even on the first page. The full picture, however, emerges slowly. Strange words like 'donors' and 'completion' litter the otherwise ordinary beginning of a carer recounting her school days. There are no parents, endless creativity for the Gallery, sales of 2nd hand items and, most profoundly, the reactions amongst the teachers towards the children to make you want to read on and find out the roots of their situation. Some teachers seem embarressed to be there, others view them with open distaste, one recoils in horror if they come near. Most are civil and kind, but distant. One wants the chidren to be more informed. Anyone who visits from outside rushes in and out as if they will be contaminated.
The children find some of this intriguing but also used to it and are preoccupied by growing up. Their world seems second hand and a bit shabby, the children willingly forgotten. This is most evident when they leave school and are deposited on a dilapidated farm in Norfolk, where it is so cold at night they have to pile rugs on the bed to keep warm. During this time, as they grow, have relationships, fall outs, they learn of their destiny. This life is all they know and there are periods when you forget that their situation is far from normal.

The whole idea behind the book raises a lot of ethical questions which are good for discussion. The writing is unusual, sedate, stoical. None of the children rebel or even argue about it. They do not want sympathy or understanding. They have no contemplation of the guilt that surrounds them. You find yourself asking them 'Why don't you just run away?' Kathy's point of view is insightful as well as distancing. It is as if she needs to write it down to put it together herself. Also I really did not like Ruths character and couldn't understand why none of them stood up to her. At times I found them infuriating, their obsessions, building dramas out of nothing, like going to see this legendary boat, which is just a boat and never mentioned again. I also found that this illustrated their differences and also their sadness, from an outsiders point of view. The emotionless cloud that forms around the text is unsettling but is successful as it is the only way we can experience these unfortunates, who are not machines but people, brought up kindly, but practically, and without love, knowing that their purpose is a service with an ultimate price.

A book I found interesting, more after I had read it. I was unable to connect with anyone in it to have any great impact emotionally. It does provide, however, food for thought about the morality of some developments that are nearer than we think. A definate talking point and unusual read.
Here are some links for further reading:-

1 comment:

Gentle Reader said...

I feel similarly about this book--I was unable to connect emotionally with anyone in it, though I was fascinated by the concept. I love your Mallory Towers reference, by the way--those were books I loved as a kid, those and the St. Clare's books!

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye