Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm writing about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

My first thought was: I have no idea what to say about this book. And then hundreds of words suddenly poured forth from my fingers.

I'll start with this. I didn't want this book to end when it did. I was "in" the book for days after I finished reading it, even after I'd gone on to other books. This is, to me, the mark of a really good book. Ishiguro, the English author of Remains of the Day, created a world that felt terribly real to me, enough so that I felt betrayed when the book ended.

It ended rather abruptly.

And that left me frustrated. Ishiguro is good. He was so close so close so close to a great book with this one.

I don't know how much to say about the plot, as it's intentionally left mysterious throughout the novel. The main characters are leading an unconventional life, and only gradually do they realize it themselves. At no time is there an obvious ah-hah moment for the characters or the readers, just gradual confirmation of various assumptions. That part is very very well done.

  1. Fascinating conceit.
  2. Beautiful description.
  3. Realistic: perfect pitch relating awkward situations between people, subtle interactions that I’ve experienced but never even tried to describe to myself, let alone write down.

Questions (spoilers herein!)
  1. Why didn’t they ever consider just leaving? Any of them?
  2. What were they really donating, specifically? Was there a set order? Did they take multiple organs at once? Why just 4 times? Why not eyes? Why did they keep dying after 2 or 3 times? What’s up with the “messy” surgeries?
  3. And these are just donations for the common good, not, as I at first assumed, clones of individual wealthy people as personal body farms? Who were the initial cell donors, then? And the incubating mothers?
  4. Is it the same elsewhere as in England?
  5. How was it ensured that they could not have children?
  6. How did they keep from mixing more with the culture at large as adults?

  1. Stilted dialogue, especially in the early years at Hailsham, that took me out of the story. Way too many uses of names. “Kathy, blah blah blah.” “I don’t know, Tommy.” “But Kathy,” etc.
  2. Sex. Kathy’s attitude about it didn’t seem particularly normal to me, and I really expected that to play a larger role in the story. Maybe some people are like that, maybe some women. But in my experience it’s a far from universal experience for women of sex, though that’s how Ruth presents their shared experience to Kathy in a significant scene.
  3. SPOILER The never questioning, never disobeying, never doing anything risky, never pushing limits too far, never getting truly involved in the world, all that really bugged me. What were the rumors about Hailsham escapees and Tommy’s temper meant to suggest? All that seemed like foreshadowing something big. I expected him to walk away or commit suicide, just so that he’d know for sure.
  4. (This question added later.) What was the deal with the cottages? What was that really about? Did they all go there? I believe there was mingling. What did the donors not from "privileged estates" think they were doing? Surely not writing a thesis.

And, also, what they said.

Initial reaction: pissed and cheated. Could have been so good, missed.

Weeks later: There's still far more I wanted to know. Perhaps I should seek out interviews with the author, his working notes, something like that. The world was a little . . . incompletely drawn in places. But one of my biggest frustrations - the way the characters simply accepted what happened to them and were observers rather than initiators of significant action - really was the point and was, therefore, while frustrating, perfectly rendered.

I think everyone should read this book, if only so that I can talk to all of you about it.

Check out the other reviews this month over at Barrie Summy's!


pattinase (abbott) said...

It's been a few years now, but I loved this book. I didn't feel any of your frustrations because I assumed this was the way it was. I truly found it heart-breaking.

Jenn Jilks said...

Interesting review!

I like the ones, unlike mine, that didn't like it, which causes a certain amount of reflection!

Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking. Makes me even more curious to read it. Good job!

Sarah Laurence said...

I planned to read this book in England and never got around to it. Your review is a fine reminder. Thanks for the spoiler alert – I won’t read further until I read the book myself.

Sarahlynn said...

Sarah, it's almost impossible to review this book without spoilers, since the very topic of the book is a spoiler. I'm glad I got to read it with no idea what it was about - it was a book club selection - and I don't want to take that opportunity away from anyone else.

Kathy, the book itself is VERY thought-provoking. It changed my mind on a few things . . .

Jenn, I almost always like what I review - this book book I liked quite a lot - but for the book review club I'm enjoying being honest about what I didn't like, too. It's good exercise for me as a writer, trying to put my finger on what I think doesn't work in a book.

Pattinase, my blog feeds to my Facebook page and there's an active discussion there where most of my friends feel as you do. I just needed a few sentences/details/assurances more in order to really believe.

I think that the characters were truly human - I think the point of the novel was to show them as such - and I don't know of any group of humans, no matter how oppressed and abused, in which there's no rebellion. Everyone donates as expected, in the end. Curiosity kills no cats.

Barrie said...

If this is a book that stayed with you for days, that's good enough for me. I'll read it! I love a book that can do that. Thanks Saralynn. I always look forward to your reviews.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

You really know how to whet the appetite! So many many unknowns... such mystery. How can we resist finding out for ourselves?

Sarahlynn said...

Alyssa, Barrie, please do! It's well worth a read! And then I hope you each review it, too . . .

kaye said...

sounds very mysterious. I had a similar experience when I read "The Sister" by Poppy Adams. That was months ago and I still wish I knew someone that had read it so I could discuss it with them.

my review

Sarahlynn said...

Ooooh. Your review made me very curious!

Jess said...

I just now finished reading this book. The ending bugged me too, *THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS*

at the end, when Kathy stopped the car, and Tommy went out into the dark, I thought he would do something drastic. And was so disappointed really, when he didn't. I was really hoping for a hopeful ending, rather than just the terrible nightmare realizations that came about. Oh, and I DEFINITELY have all the same questions, especially about the organs. I was dying to get more information, and none was forthcoming! Frustrating!

Sarahlynn said...