**spoiler alert** i wrote this on feb 11, 2006. it took me a bit of digging through discs to find it. i'm posting it so i can contribute to the conver**spoiler alert** i wrote this on feb 11, 2006. it took me a bit of digging through discs to find it. i'm posting it so i can contribute to the conversation that is going on over at jennifer aka eccentric muse. check it out.
i finished kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go two nights ago and i wish i had written about it immediately, while i was still “inside” it, but i didn’t have time and i have now started a new book (ali smith’s the accidental). in any case, never let me go is a quite exceptional literary accomplishment, though i think ishiguro’s decision to break the spell at the end was a bit unfortunate, that it was aesthetically clumsy. but this may just be me. it’s just that this book is so entirely mysterious, not only because of this subject matter, but, even more so, for the way ishiguro decides to portray it. it is mysterious, for instance, that the book’s england should be so bucolic, so a-modern, some fantasy-land not necessarily beautiful (it is often grey and rainy), but certainly uncontaminated by the worst of civilization. even cars figure in it only accidentally, and TV sets. but no phones, no modern devices, no cities. there is a scene near the end when kathy, ruth, and tommy are quite taken by some big advertising poster, and what’s striking it’s the sense of wonderment these people have, not precisely at manifestations of modernity—they seem not to care really— but at allusions to what their life might have been, or to what other people’s lives are like. i think the wonderment at the poster with the office scene is not that different from the wonderment they all feel at the strangely beached boat.
it’s occurring to me now, and i’m not going to go back and organize these thoughts better, that maybe the clones have a different sensibility from the “other people.” it seems pretty obvious from the boat scene that it is a big deal for all of them, even those who, like tommy, are at first not particularly interested. yet, it is also made somewhat clear (at least to me), that the boat is not a big deal for people in general. it’s an event that really affects this community but not other communities, for some reason. so one might think that the idea is that the clones have a different sensibility.
their most striking feature—even though ishiguro magisterially makes it come across as if it were absolutely normal, so you realize it is strange only after thinking about it a bit—is how obsessed they are by the vagaries of their relationships with one another. kathy, as the narrator, analyzes little events and exchanges between her and the people in her life to the minutest detail, as if they had the greatest significance in the world. it is only when the book ends that you realize that none of it was really that important, except maybe all the discussions that concern the clones’ relationship with the guardians, because those provide clues to their status and future as clones. but this is interesting for us, the readers, the normal people. to them, to the clones, what is important are the subtlest nuances of their friendship, and their rapport to the guardians. it’s as if their world were incredibly fragile, and they needed to pay tremendous attention in order not to not spoil the good mood between them or make things uncomfortable.
so the strange thing about this book is that these characters, or at least kathy, are simultaneously detached and obsessed. they are detached from what worries most of us, the readers. but they are obsessed with their—not inner life exactly, but the inner life of their relationships. kathy never spends much time analyzing the way she feels (the scene with the “never let me go” song is an exception, though obviously an important one), but she spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing the way she feels towards tommy and ruth, and they way they feel towards her and each other.
both tommy and ruth are, by the way, not wholly sympathetic characters. you keep expecting to find out why we should care about them, but at the end there’s nothing. so it is unclear, too, why kathy should love either of them so much. and it is hard, ultimately, to determine how much she loves them. she does, in spite of the title, let them go rather matter-of-factly, even though i’m fairly sure those separations are meant to be more emotional and devastating than i myself felt them.
it is undeniable, though, that the book doesn’t call for much identification on the part of the reader. although undeniably human, the characters are also wholly alien, partly because of the things i’ve mentioned so far, partly because of their passive acceptance of their “destiny.”
why don’t they conceive of a different life for themselves? why don’t they run away? but they don’t, even though it is absolutely clear that they received little to no indoctrination at hailsham; that, in fact, the whole purpose of hailsham was to keep them as innocent as possible about their future.
so this intensely moody, mysterious atmosphere gets somewhat spoiled, i think, when kathy and tommy (and we) get told about everything, get given the whole sorry story, at emily’s and marie claude’s house at the end. there the book jumps, if for a second, into realist mode, and though i am a great fan of realist fiction and do not typically enjoy non-realist fiction, it is a bit of a let down. we did after all gather a sense of what was going on, and i, for one, would not have minded if the book had left me with some unanswered questions.
a lot of this book reminded me of an incredible japanese film i saw a couple of years ago, afterlife. same mixture of dingy realism (broken down houses, cassette tapes, mud, fences, cement, roadside cafés) and intense concentration on the characters’ interaction with each other, but in a way that makes them absolutely alien to us, the viewers.
this book gathers its rarefied, elegiac atmosphere also, partly, from what it omits: clothing is barely there (not in the sense that the characters go around naked, but in the sense that their clothes are rarely described), as are physical appearances. in general, what is missing is all that concern the life and comfort of the body: food, sleep, money, homes, rest, play. and, to some extent, even the life and comfort of the mind: though there are books (i found ishiguro’s dropping of classics’ titles playful rather them meaningful in a deep way), but there are no cinema, no theatre, no museums, no history, no buildings and monuments, no science. also: no alcohol, no smoke, no drugs. even illness and physical decay, a key element of course of the novel, are dealt with with incredible scarcity of details: what gets donated on the “donations?” why carers? how are the recovering patients taken care of? are they in pain? do they take medication? do they undergo dialysis? there are only “tests” and “completions,” and that’s about it as far as the details of the grueling medical procedures they have been “created for” are concerned.
the whole sociology and morality of the cloning business is touched upon only at the end, in the scene with emily and marie claude that i thought ham-fisted, too explicit for such an inexplicit book. there are these mysterious “they” who send notices and keep the clones lined up for the next task, but one feels strangely incurious about them. the story, ultimately, is not about what goes on (and that’s why the scene at the end doesn’t work). the book is about holding on to one’s humanity, about balancing knowledge and ignorance, maybe about faith and love and those precious, fragile, impalpable things that keep us human in a inhuman world. ...more