Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review- Never Let Me Go

Earlier this month, I did a speed-read through Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go so I would be finished with it before Netflix sent me a copy of the film version. I always found the trailer to Never Let Me Go very haunting ever since I first saw it last summer, but wanted to read the novel before seeing it because a friend of mine told me it's a film better for those who've read the source material. If you have seen the trailer, you know it's not the easiest to make sense of what the plot is exactly. You can tell these characters are going through something substantial but don't know what it is exactly. The book has very much the same type of tone. It's slow and observant and things are unravel in a even pace, yet haunting manner.

So let me go into what the plot is exactly. Think back to the 2005 film The Island with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson; it was a future sci-fi flick in which a company breeds humans so their organs can be harvested at an at need basis for their clients. Never Let Me Go is very much the same concept except you take out the sci-fi thriller, summer flick feel and tell the story using a quiet, victorian tone. The entire book is narrated by a 30-year old woman named Kathy H. who was a former student at a school called Hailsham. She introduces herself as a "carer" at the beginning of the novel. A carer is one who watches over the "donors" at various recovery centers and is one of the last stages in the life cycle of these former students before they become donors. A donor can go between one to four donations before they "complete." Getting closer to the end, Kathy begins to reminisce about the past, the time she spent at Hailsham, and the relationships she had with her two close friends, Tommy and Ruth. The novel is split into three parts: Part 1 goes over the trio's time at Hailsham, Part 2 deals with after the three graduate and live in the cottages together, and Part 3 is when the donations begin. Ruth has a strong personality and has a tendency to talk things up. Tommy is short tempered and is pushed around a bit by others. Kathy is a quiet and very good at observing small subtleties in human behavior, making her the perfect narrator to tell their story.

I absolutely loved the writing in this novel. Ishiguro has an incredibly rich way to describe the attitudes and decorum of all his characters. I loved reading the parts about young Kathy and Ruth; it was very similar to how my friends and I would have behaved in elementary school. He is able to capture the real essence of human mannerisms, attitudes, and demeanor, as well as quells we go through with our loved ones throughout our lives. The diction Ishiguro uses tones down the true horrors of what is happening to these students. The truth is drawn out in easy to handle increments for the students (as well as the readers). They are told a bit of the truth before they are old enough to fully comprehend what it means, and by the time they are old enough, they've gotten use to the idea. The characters do not ever question or try to fight the horrific future that is laid out for them. They are taught to believe they are not humans in the same sense as you and I, but are freaks and disposable; however, it is very evident to the reader that these characters are very much humans with souls.

Even though this is a science fiction book, all the sci-fi characteristics are very much played down so don't except a very intricate, technical plot. The book looks at questions regarding science and ethics and how society often time will turn the other cheek at unspeakable horrors that go on at their benefit. If I can compare this book to any other I've read, I'd say A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee. The back of the novel says it is about a Japanese soldier in the military during WWII who falls in love with a Korean comfort woman (women who were forced to pleasure enlisted men during the war). It sounds to be a engrossing and tricky plot, yet the novel was pretty much just focused on characters and themes and accompanied by a beautiful writing style. Overall, I found Never Let Me Go to be beautiful and brilliant. Some may find it slow and boring (one review I saw on Amazon said it was like treading through mud). The ending is not a happy one for both our trio and the future prospects of students like them. I was really hoping Kathy and Tommy would run away together, but Ishiguro doesn't give you that easy satisfaction. I really look forward to the film and I only hope it can capture the same thought provoking aspects of the novel.

Final Score- 8/10

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