I like reading books about war dogs, shipwrecks, and lady aviators.
Though the title connotes a yarning puerile romance, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a lovely work of literary fiction. The novel’s resignation to its own hopelessness threads delicately between gently morose and hauntingly blithe. Ishiguro maintains a deft hand in slowly revealing details, a tactic which would have failed for a less skilled author. The novel comes together like a jigsaw puzzle worked from the frame inward.
Kathy H., the 31-year-old narrator, speaks as if readers are fully enculturated into her world. The circuitous narrative hesitates in Kathy’s present life before cycling back to long stretches of memory. The connection between Kathy’s life as a carer and her childhood spent as a student at Hailsham reads as at once tenuous and paramount. Exactly what is going on is not made fully clear until a third of the book has passed; then a long exposition bluntly explains the novel’s central premise.
Kathy and her friends, like all students of Hailsham, are clones. They will live briefly, donating organs, living in agony as they recover from operations, slowly dying as their bodies are entirely gutted and harvested.
There is no mention of rebellion or injustice as the clones carry out their donations. The highly questionable morality of creating clones to cure diseases is hinted at only once, late in the novel by a former Hailsham teacher. Even then, the teacher was primarily concerned with providing a happy life for the cloned children, not with confronting the ethics of the situation.
Ishiguro is not interested in the mechanics or morality of cloning. The device is merely a vehicle for exploring more pressing matters, namely memory and loss. The novel is not science fiction or even speculative fiction so much as it is a meditation on nostalgia in the face of duty.
Ishiguro gives his characters the comfort of happy memories when the inevitable hardships of life descend. Kathy’s memories capture moments of contentment in a predetermined life, which is perhaps all any of us can hope for. As we move toward our own ends, snapshots of happiness and joy reflect the tender realities of living, loving, and losing. Never Let Me Go is much more memento mori than carpe diem, and rings all the truer for it.
You can read the first chapter here.