Sunday, May 26, 2013

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Often, when I read a book, I end up noting things down along the way. It then turns into a sort of rant-review and I can think of nothing else to write later. This post doesn't have much of a beginning nor an end. Of course, if you've already read Never Let Me Go, this post would make a lot more sense to you than if you haven't. I have to say, though: it is definitely worth a read. From the two books I've read of his, I find the author rather talented, mostly for having produced two quite different books. (The other one I read was An Artist of the Floating World.)

Summary: The book is narrated by a thirty year old woman, Kathy, who has been a carer for twelve years now. She is looking back on her life in this post-war world. Kathy and her friend Ruth were students of a special boarding school "Hailsham." They spent their childhoods there, with the teachers (guardians) being the only people they had in their lives apart from themselves; they had no families and weren't even allowed outside the school. The children were different from the people outside, you know, the "normal people", though none of them knew why. Kathy reminisces about her past, about bonding with the misfit Tommy, losing him to sassy little Ruth, the quiet loneliness that followed, and other seemingly little incidents that build up to the moment when the students realize what fate has in store for them in the outside world. Kathy talks about meeting Tommy and Ruth years later, as their carer and helping them through their donations. Kathy is now about to quit being a carer and finally become a donor herself.

Never Let Me Go was so sad. Great, but very sad. It was depressing, it just got more depressing and more truthful with every page and the ending was so honest, it hurt. I liked it, of course and here's why.

Most post-apocalyptic, dystopian books try to be suspenseful and fail. The plots follow a kind of formula: where there's this post-tragedy futuristic world that's supposedly working just fine, until our protagonist starts to not-fit-in and soon realizes that under the facade of a very well-functioning society lies this whole underground community of rebels. More often than not, the protagonist joins them and almost always, fails in overthrowing the system or loses something of himself in his attempt. Sure, dystopian fiction calls for this pessimistic, "Oh God, is this really how the world's going to end up?" and tragic "No, wait, the world already is kind of like this, isn't it?" flurry of reactions. But an author putting a lot of trouble into making the plot suspenseful, when we all know this is going to happen, gets tiring after a while. The thing that irritated me to no end in The Handmaid's Tale, for instance, was that very silly withholding of information. I couldn't focus on anything, but that aura of mystery the narrator kept trying to create. It was a very childish technique of keeping someone interested, which combined with the overly obvious "message", just didn't have much of an impression on me. Deliberately misleading the readers into thinking something else, while employing the formula anyway is not very creative (unless it's something like I am Legend, all the planning usually just gets in the way of actually sending across a message.)

What's creative is coming up with a whole new approach to the story, which is what I think Ishiguro has done here. He's never kept the pretense of "mystery". It's quite clear from the very beginning why the children are 'special', why they're at Hailsham and how they're going to end up. If you haven't already guessed, I won't say what, but I can promise you, you'll guess before you reach even the seventh page. The narrator, Kathy, assumes we know, since we're from such a school ourselves and focuses on her story, instead. Unlike The Handmaid's Tale, the point of Never Let Me Go, the message that the author was trying to get across, seemed rather subtle. The characters in this book, quite maudlin and immature in their ideas, told a lot more than an unlikely hero would have.

The book made me think about what 'doing good' means, about double standards and how people like to believe in the ultimate good, even though we're all just as confused as the next person. Do we try to believe our life makes sense only to gain some semblance of control, as we stand on the edge of an infinite pit of darkness, desperately trying to keep our balance. The book has no fairy tale ending. It just leaves a lingering feeling of helplessness that characterizes the lives of the people in the book, not to mention, our own lives. A loss of control that can only be dealt with by acceptance.

8 comments:

Divers and Sundry said...

i read this book late last year and loved it. i agree with you that "It just leaves a lingering feeling of helplessness". i need to read more by this author.

Book Dilettante said...

I saw the movie which was terribly sad, so I won't read the book, but I loved his other works, in particular When We Were Orphans. Enjoyed your comments

Priya said...

That's rather unfortunate. I wouldn't have wanted to read the book, either, if I'd already seen the movie. I have heard of When We Were Orphans and now I can't wait to read it. Thanks for stopping by!

Bellezza said...

I think that the way Japanese literature can evoke emotions so beautifully, one of them being sadness, is part of why I like it so much. This book has long been on my shelf as one I want to read for my very own Japanese Literature Challenge. I really must do that this year! Thanks for a great review.

Priya said...

Well, I haven't read much Japanese literature, but I plan to. I just picked up a Yukio Mishima!
Thanks for stopping by.

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I definitely have had it on my wishlist for quite some time. Thanks for the review!

Priya said...

Julie - This had been on my reading list for quite a while too. It's one of those books everyone seems to have heard of! I do hope you get around to reading it, it's certainly worth the effort!

Loraine said...

Cool review :) Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/05/never-let-me-go-by-kashuo-ishiguro.html

Thanks and have a nice day!

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