Grinding away at my ever growing stack o’ tomes, I picked up Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro is a Booker-prize winning Japanese-British author, an a fine writer. This was a quick read, enjoyable and moving. Warning: spoilers follow.
Our narrator is Kathy H., a self-described “carer” who nostalgically reminisces of her youth in Hailsham – a boarding school of sorts. We meet her close friends, Ruth and Tommy, also “students” at the school. Much of the book revolves around the trivial – social pecking orders, squabbles and misunderstandings, first crushes and jealousies. Ishiguru is a master of nuance, and expertly paints how a gesture or remark can lead to tension. His style is plain-spoken and simple, almost minimalist – but very assured and wise.
On the surface all seems well at Hailsham – manicured lawns and etiquette lessons – but there is a strange menace beneath. We learn all students of Hailsham are “donors”. The true nature of this insidious program is slowly revealed by Kathy’s narration and some final expository monologues at the climax. In truth, the students are clones who will be harvested for their organs.
That would appear to be a perfect plot-vehicle for a sci-fi horror thriller (ala Michael Bay film), but instead, Ishiguru crafts a character drama with Kafkaesque undertones. The students are conditioned to accept their fate rather than question – there is no rebellion or uprising, only complacency. They follow through with their sacrifice with dignity and often pride.
Never Let Me Go is also an allegory for death. While we may not have clones that are harvested for organs, all of us know loved ones who will die. This is what makes the book important – how relationships are complicated and changed by death – the faded dreams, the things unsaid, the final mundane moments becoming etched in memory. This is a very moving and beautiful book. Still, I felt the need to glance over some fiery Dylan Thomas for counterbalance.