Thursday, June 16, 2005

Never Let Me Go

Originally uploaded by Man_Overboard.
(by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005)

It is very difficult to talk about this book in any meaningful way without getting into its substance. I read it without having any idea of where it was going, and found it profoundly moving. Others have told me that they did know what was going to happen, and still found it moving, so maybe there isn't a problem.

Kathy is 31: she is reflecting on her days as a school girl, in particular on her relations with her closest friend Ruth and a boy called Tommy, who went off with Ruth. It turns out that Ruth was the kind of friend that is the stuff of a Margaret Atwood novel: mean-spirited to the point that although she fully knew that Tommy and Kathy should have been together, she made sure they didn't.

So, on the surface, there is a fairly pedestrian telling of that story, with a narration that continuously pauses to go back for more details. So, we have things like "I want to talk about the Norfolk trip .. but I'll first have to go back a bit, to give you the background and explain why it was we went". Quite who the "you being addressed is is never explained.

But there is much more going on in this novel, and that is only gradually revealed. First we learn that all of the children at this very special school are clones, probably of prostitutes, drugs, and other people of no account in society. Then we learn of their very special purpose: after a period of being "carers", they will become "donors" until they, inevitably, are "completed".

What is being donated are their organs - lungs are mentioned, but no doubt the donation process goes on until something vital for life is taken. Donors give between two and four times before they are "completed" - dead. The carers are those who provide companionship to donors - because there is a sharp line drawn between the clones and those for whom they make donations. So, when, about half way through, I learnt that all carers became donors, it gave an extra significance to the opening statement in the book - that Kathy is about to stop being a carer, because eleven years "sounds enough". Most do it for two or three years.

Being clones, one major concern is whether they have "souls" - there are committees of non-clones set up to try and determine that, with the clones all being asked to produce art to be assessed for that purpose. Of course, while they were young, none of the kids had any idea of who or why they were, but did notice the strange behaviour of some of the adults, who'd not go anywhere near them. Another big dilemma for the adults was the extent to which, and how quickly, the clones should have their fate revealed to them: it was interesting how Kathy and Tommy get the sense that there are things going on around them that are being deliberately with-held.

In terms of how they get on with each other, go after each other, fight and have their problems, all of the clones seem as human and real as any other character in a book. So - that leads to an immense sadness in the adults who are looking after them.

There is one scene in which Kathy is dreamily singing along to her favourite tape, a song with the line "Baby. baby, never let me go" while holding a pillow and imagining it is her baby (not knowing that that can never happen but imagining it is a miracle baby born to someone who can't have babies). She is seen by "Madame" but notices that Madame was crying.

Years later, Ruth Tommy and Kath go and visit "Madame" who finally explains why she was crying:
When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.
And there you have it. The novel is a cautionary tale, warning of the price of progress and a lament for that which is lost in its name.


Blogger Jessie said...

Sounds great. I must find the library up here in Auckland. I'm currently reading 'Of Mice and Men', it seeming to be one of those books one ought to read.

9:21 AM  

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