Monday, February 7, 2011

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Five Things I Like About Never Let Me Go:
1. The pervasive aura of bittersweet nostalgia.
2. The quiet, melancholic beauty of the prose, reminiscent of English countryside.
3. The dynamics between Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.
4. The setting.
5. It lingers.

I saw the movie adaptation of this book last fall at the arts cinema close to my house. It was gorgeous, a poignant, somehow bittersweet tragedy. I say tragedy, and I suppose that’s true – it is tragic – but tragedy seems like too… I guess too loud a word to use. Even though the story’s sad, it’s never brazen with its sadness. The sadness creeps up on you, like a high tide coming in, building and building. And then it washes out, leaving behind the empty stretch of sand.

The book is the same way, but better (of course) because it’s more stretched out. Not by there being more to the story, but just by nature of it being a book – it’s unlikely you’ll read it in a single sitting, so the story stretches out over several days, waiting patiently in a pocket of your mind until you pick it up again. And even when you do finish the book, like I said, it lingers.

Never Let Me Go is a story woven of Kathy H.’s memories of growing up at a place called Hailsham in the English countryside with her best friends Ruth and Tommy. It’s like boarding school – the students live in dorms separated by gender and age, they go to lessons, they spend lazy afternoons playing games on the lawn, and they weather the ups and downs of their relationships with their peers. Yet the students are aware, without ever thinking too carefully about it, that they at Hailsham are special. The Hailsham children will grow up to be donors, in an alternate world where cloning is a successful cure to humankind’s incurable killers. Their fate is inevitable, but as they leave Hailsham on the cusp of adulthood (and with it, donations), Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth begin to question things about their time at Hailsham – how they submitted artwork to win a place in a special gallery, how certain topics had an unspoken taboo – and what role they might play in truth of certain rumors circulating amongst Hailsham graduates, rumors of deferral. Never Let Me Go is partly a science-fiction novel, partly a novel about the ties of love and friendship and shared experience, partly a novel about growing older and entering “real life”, and even partly a novel about ethics. But mostly it’s a novel about the human soul.

Though essentially linear and never hard to follow, the narrative moves fluidly backwards and forwards in time throughout the novel, much like the meandering memory process it mimics. I think this tone is one of the things that makes the mournful poignancy of Never Let Me Go so calm and understated without subtracting from its impact – instead of being inundated with the acute flares of emotion aroused by the events as they happened, the reader experiences the contemplative reflection of someone recalling their life knowing their time is soon and realizing that regret will only embitter the memories they have left.

Ah. I can’t go on and do it any justice. Just read it. And then see the movie. Not necessarily in that order – for once I can see a benefit in reversal, in gleaning the visual mood from the movie before reading the book.

Books Read This Year: 12
Top 100 Progress: 39/100

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