Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary: Kathy H. has been a carer for close to twelve years, but soon she will be a donor, just like the people she watches over.  As Kathy approaches this point in her life, she recalls her childhood at Hailsham, an isolated school, and her friendships with the self-assured Ruth and the warm Tommy.  Looking back, Kathy is able to piece together and understand moments from her childhood for the first time and come to terms with her relationships and place in life.

Musings: Unlike most books in the genre, Never Let Me Go is a very quiet dystopian.  In fact, from reading summaries of the basic plot outline, it's easy to overlook the dystopian setting beyond a vague uneasiness with certain wording: "carers," "donors."  This set-up is very much like the book itself, which is focused much more on relationships than the world in which the book operates.  There is no open hostility, and there is no open rebellion; there is no villain and no real evil.  Instead, there is Kathy, who relates her childhood matter-of-factly, working within her position in life rather than against it.

Nonetheless, the dystopian elements are always in the background, as the reader is "told and not told" what is happening.  Throughout their time at Hailsham, Kathy and her friends have a vague idea of what is happening to them without fully understanding, and the reader undergoes the same experience throughout the novel.  There is no big revelation when everything is finally understood; instead, small pieces form together throughout the chapters.  This does mean there is sometimes an excessive amount of ominous foreshadowing, but overall, the mood felt appropriate.

As someone who reads a lot of dystopian works, I did wonder at the fact that the characters never once question their position in life.  Certainly they are raised to accept what will happen to them, and, in fact, the book sets up a childhood in which the most difficult questions and assumptions are ignored rather than discussed, but I still imagine that every human being--at some point in his or her life--wants to know why he or she has been set on a particular course.  For that reason I was a bit let down by the ending, which fits within the general tone of the book, but wasn't quite satisfying.

Although Never Let Me Go is quite different, I was drawn in by Ishiguro's simple prose and attention to detail.  By having Kathy narrate events from her childhood as an adult, Ishiguro gives his protagonist the gift of hindsight and the ability to understand things as only an adult looking back can do.  I think that as most of us age, we tend to look back on our younger years with a mix of approval and regret, and I appreciated that connection with Kathy.

Never Let Me Go is very readable and would appeal to people interested in dystopian fiction but not ready to take the "hard-core" plunge into the genre.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.

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