Monday, October 24, 2005

Book #35: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro



Not long ago, I wrote a song about clever novelists comparing the best of them with magicians pulling out the rug from beneath the reader, who can only sit there, open-mouthed, visibly shaken but physically unchanged. It's not a very clever song, I know, but Ishiguro is such a magician. I read this novel in such a rush that I had no idea how affected I was by these characters until, suddenly, with just a few words near the end, Ishiguro ripped my still-beating heart out before my stunned eyes. I mean, here's the trick: Ishiguro told me all along what was going to happen and who was going to suffer from it, and when it inevitably happened, I was more shocked than if it were completely out of the blue. And I was even more surprised by how much it affected me. When did I start to care? How did I go from being a moderately engaged, somewhat cool reader to being a tear-soaked, weak-kneed mess in just a few words?

Poof. Voila!

So, the novel. As I assume you know, it's written from the point of view of a young woman, Kathy H (there is no more to her last name, but the evocation of Kafka with his single initials is deliberate) who happens to be a clone. Her worldview has been deliberately limited throughout her entire life and Ishiguro imagines the four corners of this particular education with unbroken clarity. She is entirely believable as the product of the upbringing she describes. Much of the book is taken up with her memories of Hailsham, the institution that raised her and her small circle of friends. As in the horrible A Separate Peace, the novel captures the boarding-school cliches, but Never Let Me Go makes them its own, mainly because of the peculiarity of the residents. The two people most important to Kathy are Tommy, a star athlete who is mocked because of his poor art skills, and Ruth, a manipulative, somewhat mean, girl who is Kathy's closest friend. Kathy doesn't exposit about her situation, but it soon becomes clear what she is and what her life has been like. It would ruin the narrative spell to give too much away, but attentive readers (and we're all attentive readers these days) will notice quickly that Kathy's is a smart-but-normal woman with a somewhat emotionally stunted girlishness in a horrible, horrible circumstance, one with a horror to it that is barely articulated in the novel. But the horror is there, creeping around the edges, seeping into the narrative cracks like a fog. By the end, it's so strong that you'll be astounded, suggestable, a ripe mark for literary sleight-of-hand. Fortunately for you, Ishiguro isn't interested in picking your pocket, but in subtly implanting the seeds to larger ethical issues. No cheap stunt magician, this is the work of a master wizard.

2 comments:

Pacze Moj 10:59 PM, October 24, 2005  

When I first started reading this, I thought I'd been tricked into reading some sort of Secret Garden-ish chick-lit novel.

By about page fifty, I sensed there was something uncanny about everything. The book caught my interest.

When I finished reading for the night, I couldn't believe how much I didn't want to stop reading.

By the time I finished it, Ishiguro had completely weaved his spell. Never Let Me Go is an apt name for a book that sneaks up on you like that.

Hayden Childs 3:57 PM, October 25, 2005  

It's definitely a very curious book.

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