Tuesday, July 29, 2008
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it's only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.
My second Ishiguro novel, this was a fascinating story, set in an alternate England in the late 1990's. In this book, cloning is a fact of life used for medical purposes. Hailsham is where Kathy, Ruth and Tommy grow up and go to school together. They've been there probably since infants and it seems like a regular nice English boarding school in the countryside, except they can't leave the grounds and there are lots of little mysteries surrounding it. It's not until they are in their early teens that they find out the truth - they are all clones to be used eventually as "donors" for medical purposes.
As ghastly as this sounds, it's written so eloquently that you become completely used to the idea and feel compelled to continue reading to see how it all turns out. What happens to Ruth and Tommy? Does Kathy ever become a donor, or does she remain a "carer" . The students start out by helping donors through their donations - a painful business that continues until they "complete." Most never make it past their 4th donation. There is never any graphic detail about what these donations mean, but you know it means they're giving up a vital organ. Yet, they're okay with this, they've been raised to accept it.
But, the flip side of this is the question - does mankind have the right to do this, and do clones have souls like regular human beings? The people we meet in this book have feelings, they have sex drives (though they cannot have babies - we never find out why) and lots of sex, they talk about life as they know it and what comes after Hailsham and becoming a donor.
I can't say enough about what a great writer Ishiguro is. His pacing is perfect, his writing is literary, yet simple and uncluttered - it's easy to read his novels. Again, this was a short book, less than 300 pages. I became engrossed in it from the beginning, for I deliberately did not want to read the dustjacket description. I wanted to come into with no pre-conceived notions, although I knew it had something to do with cloning, so I guessed the truth of what they were cloned for before it was revealed in the story. I had to keep reading to find out what happened with Ruth and Tommy, and of course, gentle and sensitive Kathy. Plus, I was caught up in the world of Hailsham and over and over I was mystified at how Ishiguro so easily wrote about the inner feelings and thoughts of a young girl - whether she was 8 years old and into make believe, or a blossoming young teenager, wondering about sex amidst the mind games that go on with girls her age. How does he know this stuff? I recognized a lot of the same sort of things I experienced as a little girl and young teenager. Who's brain did he pick - how does he do it? He was right on target, startling accurate.
This was a beautifully written haunting tale, one that will stay with me for a long, long time.