Book Talk: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thank God for this blog. Seriously, I couldn’t just rant about a book on unE, because that’s not what unE is for (although I tried a little bit, with my Master’s Musings column, but I couldn’t bring myself to adding my personal emotions and ideas to my professional “work” site).

This post is going to be full of spoilers. If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read this. If you read the book and want to read my thoughts, keep going.

So I just finished “Never Let Me Go” (again, actually, since I read ahead and skimmed a bit) and I’m pretty speechless. The dystopian ending hit me out of no where. Yes, I knew to some extent where it was going, but to listen to Madam and Miss Emily discuss how Kathy and Tommy are nothing but advancements of science–nothing but cures–and saying it to their faces, I was horrified. The narrative manipulates the reader so subtly into a seductive dance of sympathy and compassion. We see Kathy’s emotions and her fears and her problems. We see the way she handles situations, how she wishes she could go back and fix things. We see her childhood drama turn into adolescent drama. She’s no different than me really.

But then we are plummeted into the icy-cool waters of reality when Miss Emily says,

By the time they came to consider just how you were reared, whether you should have been brought into existence at all, well by then it was too late. There was no way to reverse the process. How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, the go back to the dark days? There was no going back (263).

Those lines really got to me because it was the first true glimpse we got outside of Halisham and the Cottages. We (the readers) live through Kathy’s sheltered eyes and know nothing of the surrounding world. We know they are clones, we know they’re used for donations. And we’re sort of just okay with that, probably because Kathy and crew are okay with it. But every now and then we get glimpses of how others see them, and we know: This is not okay, this is not acceptable or accepted. It’s kind of like–oh I don’t remember what grade it was now–but I had to do an earthworm experiment. I had to take the worms home, watch them, feed them, who knows. I hated it. I hate bugs, I hate worms, but I had to do it for school. And it seems like Ishiguro’s society is like me with my worms–they hate the clones, but they have to do it for society as a whole. And at the end of the day, when the experiment was done–I’ll be honest–I threw the damn things out. I think half were dead anyway. Again, that’s what people think of the clones. Except it’s one thing to do that with worms, it’s another to do it with people (right?!).

For the longest time, the world was essentially timeless. It seems anachronistic–to be discussing cloning through the seventies and eighties as opposed to far in the future. And Ishiguro effectively creates an alternative universe by using these time frames. When Kathy mentions cassette tapes and the appearance of walkmen, I remembered my own childhood and what it felt like to obtain these things. The familiarity of the time is part of what makes it so heart breaking and so dystopian–we’re not talking about the Jetsons. Hell, we’re not talking about Neuromancer or Ubik or anything like that. This isn’t even today or tomorrow; this is yesterday. This could have happened to us already. You know, it’s kind of like the whole Y2K nonsense. We know it didn’t happen, but imagine immersing yourself in a world where it DID happen. It’ll totally mess with your mind, much like this did.

I have to talk about the tech a bit, because although we never got around to discussing it, this book was assigned for my Literature and Technology class last semester. And in all of my ranting thus far, I have talked a bit about tech, but there’s one thing I found utterly fascinating: How can there be such a dichotomy in technology? How can we be so advanced in one sense (cloning), yet not even have CDs? It seems that, in this world, technology is attached to interest–if you want to cure cancer, you WILL find a way, no matter how difficult. Playing music though? Meh, not so high on the list. And the fact that the public turned a blind eye to the clones, claiming they were “soulless” is a huge breach of ethics. I don’t think our world could ever do that.

This novel really broke my heart though. Ishiguro blatantly shows that these characters have souls, feelings, emotions, and lives. To have all of that turned on its head in the last 5o pages or so is such a–I won’t swear here–fudged up device to screw with the reader’s mind. And it does. It totally, totally screwed with my head. I was speechless after reading it to be honest. Still am to a certain extent.

So if you’ve read the book and want to discuss, feel free to comment. I know a bunch of my English buddies have read it, and it may be nice to talk about it. 😀

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