Thursday, May 22, 2008
Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro is an extraordinary novel which had me bewildered at the start, then curious, then sceptical, but ultimately deeply moved. It is humanism on a beautiful scale. Where When we were orphans seemed like an exercise in literary mystery, Never Let Me Go seems, by its tragic conclusion, to be saying something important.
From the outset that characteristic Ishiguro uncertainty – full of phrases like 'thinking about it now' and 'so it seemed to me' – makes the reader aware that the idyllic boarding school in which the children reside is anything but. But what it actually is remains as mysterious to us as it does to the children. Ishiguro is simply a genius at the slow unfurling of meaning. He depicts confusion better than anyone I’ve ever read. You share the children’s curiosity. You worry at their naivete. You feel sure things will not turn out well.
Nor do they. They are in an unalterable existence of death where they live, where they have been explicitly bred, for the harvest of their bodies. This is not science-fiction, nor is it dystopia, nor is it Kafkaesque fable, although it has echoes of all of those. Ultimately, it is a novel about humanity, what it means to be human, what it means to belong, to be a part of something, to love, ultimately to die, and to see those you love die. It is remarkably sad, a beautiful book. It is impossible to read it, with your partner by your side, and not find yourself fearing the moment of her (or his) loss, not feel a surge of emotion, a moment of helpless love for them in the face of mortality. This is a book that transposes its message to the reader in a very real and very emotional way. Like all great novels, it makes you think far wider than the story itself or the characters themselves.
You could argue that it must be a fault that, by half way through and more, we still do not know that much about the characters and their predicament. – what they actually are. It makes it hard to empathise. That is a fair criticism, but it only makes the ending all the more remarkable, the fact that you care so deeply for these three young people. I had no idea how much this novel was going to move me, even as I was reading it, indeed even as I was approaching its end. It is the sad depiction of the final, inevitable rush of time that makes it so extraordinary.