Sunday, 27 March 2011

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Good thing I managed to avoid the movie version in the cinemas. It's much harder to go from film to book (tried it with the Damned United recently) than the other way around. However I still imagined Skinny, New Spiderman and The Other One when reading it. They were pretty good, actually, even if they were just in my head.

Mild spoiler time - this is science fiction. It's set in shabby genteel England in the 80s and 90s, but it gradually becomes apparent that something's very different and very wrong in this society.

It starts with Kath, who's a "carer" for "donors," looking back at her time at a kind of boarding school called Hailsham, then into adulthood, with her two friends Tommy and Ruth. Tommy's an angry misfit, almost a rebel. Ruth is what Cartman would describe as a "super king kong megabitch", but it's not really her fault.

The genius here is the focus on their relationships. The real story - their actual situation - is, for the most part, kind of a side issue. It's assumed we know about it. There's a great bit when they discuss how they're gradually told at school about what they are, but always when they're slightly too young to understand it. It's like boiling a frog - do it bit by bit so it always feels normal. The same trick is played on the reader.

It's a very creepy and horrible world that's portrayed here, and totally believable. Civilisation is always good at rationalising evil, if the benefits are worth it. Slavery's an obvious comparison, but for some the farming of animals and abortion are equally abhorrent. Most people don't really want to think about it, and we use euphemisms like "beef" for "dead cow" or "abortion" for "killing a fetus." Here it's "donations" and "completion."

I really liked this book. It made me angry. There's a similarity with Ishiguro's Remains of the Day - that friction between the repressed characters who accept their position, and the emotional turmoil that's being portrayed. Masterful stuff.


James said...

Have not read the book, but did watch the film last week. Extremely good film. My only real problem was that one of the things that made it so excellent (the detached nature of narrator Kathy H (Carey Mulligan)) meant that the end wasn't quite as heart wrenching as it could have been.

Joe said...

I suspect the ending's pretty much the same in the book. They're all weirdly detached, but it's almost to the point of autism with Kathy. Not that it ever makes it clear, but I reckon it's probably just the way they've been conditioned by society rather than drugs or genetics.

I suppose you could argue that the lack of tragedy at the end highlights the tragedy. But I know what you mean.

James said...

Her detachment and no-one's real attempt to fight the inevitibility are what make it. Specifically in the film it's when Tommy gets out of the car and lets it all out that, I felt, should tear you apart, but because we see it through Kathy you think the feelings rather than feel them.