Book Review: “Never Let Me Go”

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.

 

My Summer Reading List

Every year since I started high school I’ve written myself a Summer Reading List.  For the first few years, these were almost all just pleasure reads or books I hadn’t gotten a chance to get into yet.  But after starting my English degree and making friends with a lot of English majors who are much more well read than I am, I decided to use my summer to read the books I felt I should read to be able to fully complete my English education.  I also found that a lot of my English classes were very specific (ex. ‘The Graphic Novel’ or ‘Shakespeare’) and there was a lot of amazing literature out there I’m missing out on.  Plus, the more I read, the more I can engage in the texts I read for class *whispers: which means I can sound smarter without working that hard!* But I never seem to make it through the whole list.

SO. This summer is the first summer in a long time when I won’t have to work and will have tons of free reading time! Which means no excuses, I’m reading my entire list by September! And each time I finish a book, I’ll write an informal review of what I thought about it.

Here is what I have so far (in no particular order).  I am allowing myself to add, but not take away, from the list below:

 

The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Evelina by Frances Burney

Tales by Edgar Allen Poe

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

 

Suggestions are welcome!!

‘I Rise/I Rise/I Rise’

Maya Angelou died today. And I thought it would be pertinent to share my experience with her work.  She’s been on my ‘To Read’ list for ages but I’ve just never got around to actually picking up one of her books; I have, however, read some of her more famous poems and loved them all.  “Still I Rise” has special meaning for me.

Flashback to 2011, a terrified 18 year old me moves into my very first dorm room in a massive city 3 hours away from everything I’ve ever known.  I remember snapping at my Mom as she tried to help me unpack a little because I knew the longer she stayed the harder it would be to say goodbye.  So I gave her and my Dad each a quick peck on the cheek and they were gone.  I headed to the floor common room for orientation and my floor Don starts by welcoming us all and declares she start the year by reading us a poem. I inwardly rolled my eyes at what I thought was going to be silly sentimentality.  This is what she read:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 
Why are you beset with gloom? 
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? 
Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you? 
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? 
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

 

In the face of a really emotionally difficult and scary time for me, Maya Angelou’s words filled me with a sense of power, determination, and agency over my life. And while in no way can I relate to the discrimination, suffering, and intergenerational trauma housed behind these words, I knew that if she could face the world with such confidence, so could I.  That was the beginning of one of the best years of my life and the memory of sitting in that crowded common room feeling like I could conquer the world is one of my most precious and treasured memories.

 

Rest In Peace, Ms. Angelou. Thank you for your life.