I did it! I finished a book on my Summer Reading List (to read the full thing, check out this post). Hurray for me. Here are my thoughts on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
Overall, I really liked this book. Set sometime in futuristic England, it follows three young clones Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth as they grow up, face several life transitions, and eventually face their ends as organ donors. It’s very different from usual futuristic dystopian novels (in my experience) because it’s not about the overthrowing of the system. None of the characters ever attempt to change their society, and only a few make meagre attempts to change their personal fates. The reader is just expected to accept that in this future, England cures all diseases through growing and ‘harvesting’ clones, and this is accepted by everyone in society. The focus of the book is not on the dystopian system itself but rather the system is used by Ishiguro as a tool to explore the novel’s themes. So don’t expect a Hunger Games-esque revolution, because it doesn’t happen and that’s not the point. I found this a refreshing new take in the genre of dystopian fiction.
The entire book is from Kathy’s perspective and the narration style is very casual. It’s like Kathy knows you and is casually telling you her life story. She constantly references things she is planning on eventually telling you, jumping back and forth between her present and her past, sometimes inconsistently just like when a person is telling a story in real life. I thought I would be irritated by this, because you have to pay attention and sometimes it takes a second to remember what she’s referring to or to keep track of her various digressions. But in reality I found it engaging and liked the familiar feeling of being told a story. It’s also important to pay attention because everything Kathy says is important whether thematically or to the plot; even when it just sounds like a random digression, it’s not. Ishiguro is very purposeful and has a reason for every conversation and statement. The narration style lends itself to this as Kathy can just tell the reader the important stories, and skim over chapters of her life that are not eventful.
Throughout the novel, I found myself trying to understand what Kathy’s point is. She seems to be telling the story of her life for a reason to explain something to her listener, but it’s not clear what that is. And there is no big finale finish where everything is explained. In the final scenes a measure of the clone system in explained, but why she’s telling the story is never laid out. Again, I thought this would irritate me but I actually liked it because it means every reader can glean something different from the story.
For me, the novel is about not really about Kathy at all-it’s about Ruth, and her reaction to the world around her. Ruth is extremely manipulative, the leader in her group, and the assertive one who attempts (albeit misguidedly) to throw herself and her friends into the successful popular group. I saw Ruth as just a girl trying to succeed in the only way she knew how, which basically comes down to manipulation. She constantly lies when it suits her, usually to portray herself as popular or special and worthy of attention and praise. Kathy is her closest friend, and puts up with a lot of mistreatment but recognizes that Ruth thinks she is helping Kathy, not hurting her.
I think we are all Ruth, or at least are in danger of becoming her. In our money-obsessed society, people are taught to lie, cheat, and steal their way to create a persona of success, wealth, and popularity. It starts in the schoolyard and continues on until you look back one day and, like Ruth, have major regrets about the way your actions have affected others. We all do this, whether in small ways or big ones. We portray ourselves a certain way in order to get people to think of us in that way which we hope will then lead to people accepting and loving us. Through Kathy’s observations, Ishiguro highlights this behaviour and how ineffective it really is-Kathy is always seeing through Ruth’s disguises and by doing so reveals her to be the opposite of how she wants to be perceived.
Of course, as I said earlier, someone else could read this book and get something completely different out of it-that’s what makes it a great novel. Other themes could be coming of age, fate/destiny, death, the consequences of our actions, love, revenge, education, sex, or even medical commentary. Whatever strikes your interest, this book is a phenomenal and easy read and I highly recommend it.