Friday, November 5, 2010

Never Let Me Go

"All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma."

When TIME Magazine was writing its blurb on Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel for inclusion in its "All TIME 100 Novels" list, they said "The human drama of Never Let Me Go, its themes of atrocity and acceptance, are timeless and, sadly, permanent." Timeless, poignant, heartbreaking, troubling, and final. All of these words aptly describe Never Let Me Go. Once again, British writer Kazuo Ishiguro takes us to a place that is at once terrifying and familiar, forcing us to face ourselves and our fate.

The Plot:

I can only give the most basic plot description without giving away major spoilers, so this will be short. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are three children growing up in England. They know nothing of the outside world, and their entire life is defined by what goes on within the four walls of their boarding school, Hailsham. Though their life is essentially happy and innocent, something dark lingers on their horizon. Their teachers treat them with a mixture of pity and fear and their unspoken tales weigh upon the children. It is only after many years that they are told the horrid truth and awaken to the fate that lays before them.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

The truth that Kathy and her friends discover is that they are not like everyone else. They, and all their friends at Hailsham, are clones. Scientific progress has led to the creation of cloned humans who are used solely for the purpose of organ donation. Each clone is raised up to the age of about 30, and then their organs are harvested, one by one. After about 2-4 donations, the patient "completes" (dies). Before this, each clone spends a few years as a "carer", an emotional support for those going through the donation process. This is where Kathy is as she tells us about her life at Hailsham and beyond.

Many people try to squeeze this novel into the "science-fiction" category, and on the surface that is somewhat true. The novel is set in a parallel world and has clones as main characters. But ultimately, that is not the purpose of the novel.
"I don't want people to come away from the film thinking, I wonder if we should continue experimenting with stem cells. That's not the intent." Ishiguro says. Rather, he focuses on the human aspects of the novel.

Ultimately, this is a story of love and fate. The main characters' destiny hangs over their heads like a sword. And the way they each face it gives us a glimpse into their characters. Kathy is introspective about it, and she enjoys her work while it is available to her. Ruth, who is rather selfish both as an adolescent and an adult, seeks any and every way to pretend that her fate will be different. Tommy lashes out both at others and at himself.

I've read many reviews that question why the clones accept their fate so passively. Why don't they rebel against it? Regarding this, Ishiguro says "It's antithetical to the American creed of how you should face setbacks — that if you fight back, love conquers all." But when it comes to death, nothing can stop it. No amount of love, fight, or obliviousness will make it go away. We are all destined to this fate. Ishiguro's point is that, though our ultimate fate is sealed, what matters is the life we live before that fate. He also points to the Japanese idea that acceptance of one's fate is a high form of heroism.

Though I enjoyed this novel, it will not be for everyone. Not only are the themes somewhat dark, but there is some graphic content (sex is talked about quite frankly). I would definitely recommend this novel only for mature readers.

I picked up this novel mainly because I thoroughly enjoyed another Ishiguro novel, The Remains of the Day. Like that novel, Ishiguro's latest offering is a calm, almost mundane story, but the truths about life and humanity found in it are startling and profound. In the end, Never Let Me Go is an ode to life well lived. It is about accepting that we will not live forever, and so living life to its fullest, with as few regrets as possible.

The Movie:

The film version of this novel was released a few months ago. It stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield. I haven't seen it yet, but hope to eventually.

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