Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”

In between Proust pages and Bowles (Jane and Paul) short stories this weekend, LK managed to knock off Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.” A chillingly good read. If you haven’t read this author, by all means get your hands on one of his books. His most famous, “Remains of the Day,” would be a good place to start. Or this book, if you can face the bleak premise and near-monochromatic tone.

While LK begs off full-blown book reviews (we just want bragging rights to have finished another book), here’s a brief encapsulation:

Set in a parallel universe of England circa 1990, “Never Let Me Go” outlines the story of students from Hailsham, a rather unorthodox school by our standards. As the story unfolds, we learn that Hailsham is a place where cloned children are raised, by guardians instead of parents, until they are released to pursue their careers – first as “carers” of organ donors then as organ donors themselves, providing up to four donations for “normal” humans.

Kathy H. narrates the tale of her life and the intertwined tales of her fellow students, the tough-fibered Ruth and gentle, awkward Tommy. The three form a nuclear family of sorts, supporting each other as they awkwardly navigate their lives as social outcasts.

Ishiguro skillfully straddles fiction genres – this is neither science nor speculative nor pure mainstream fiction. The clinical detachment of Kathy H.’s voice, along with its spare language, give the novel a heartbreaking poignancy, and Ishiguro masterfully spins out facts about the true purpose of Hailsham and its students, one detail at a time, propelling us toward the book’s inevitable outcome. It seems Kathy and her friends never question their duty or their fate. By stripping the language of specificity, Ishiguro allows readers to buy into the students’ own sense of unreality and acceptance. Euphemisms do more than protect our psyche: they also sell unpalatable truths. Ishiguro never sinks into moralizing or didacticism; he allows the story and characters to raise weighty questions: about what constitutes morality, duty and family and social contracts.

Check out Slate for Margaret Atwood’s thoughtful take on this novel.

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