Monday, 25 October 2010

Book Club - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I first tried to read this novel over a year ago, I picked it up, read the first page and felt underwhelmed and disappointed. I put it down and added it to my 'will read one day' list. With a Hollywood film of the novel being released this winter (and with no less than a talented star studded cast), now seemed the ideal moment to give it another go. I am so glad I did.

This time around there was no hesitant, slow beginning that I remembered (or possibly imagined) from before. Instead, there was a strong and distinct voice that gripped me from the first page. It begins somewhat hauntingly: 'My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years.'

The novel follows Kathy, a 31 year old carer living in England in the late 1990s, as she looks back over her schools. What at first seems like a near-perfect childhood, full of caring guardians, fun classes and friendships, soon alters into something chilling and sinister. Words such as 'donations', 'students' and 'complete' suddenly take on new, significant but unexplained meaning.

Although a science-fiction novel in topic, there is no sign of this in the text. At the centre of the story is the enduring friendship between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. Ishiguro refuses to discuss the finer details of cloning, making the occasional references to the process all the more terrifying.

In fact, understatement is used to great effect in the novel. The students' quiet acknowledgement of what they face in the future (they consider it to be their duty, the reader considers to be an inhumane injustice), only emphasises the reader's feelings of frustration on their behalf. The novel raises piercing questions about exploitation and humanness, more through the subtle and precise voice than through the topic itself. This stirs a range of emotions in the reader from compassion to guilt to shock.

What Kathy is unsure of, the reader is left in the dark about, and it is this excruciating curiosity that pushes the story along. Of course, the mystery and illusion keeps the reader hooked till the final word. This is one of the many strengths of the novel. Ishiguro has struck gold. There is a strong plot, careful and intelligent characterisation, and a beautifully quiet but occasionally melancholy narrative. A heart wrenching, intriguing and worthwhile read.

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