A catch-up post for books I’ve read since I last updated.
Ever since the levels of publicity surrounding the release of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road rose so high, there has been a lot of talk on the web about mainstream fiction that uses science-fictional tropes–with one of the most common questions being, Why do these books get treated differently from other SF?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is one of these kinds of novels, and it demonstrates quite neatly, I think, the places where science fiction and mainstream fiction with SF elements diverge. The novel is about three people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, and their life together, at the private school Hailsham and beyond into their adult lives. The story is narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, and right from the beginning, with her talk about “carers” and “donors”, it is clear there is something not quite normal about this story. Over the course of the story it is revealed in hints and small revelations, what the truth is about these children. Ishiguro quite adeptly manages the slow release of information, using to this effect the way the characters perceive these things which are, to them, simple facts they have known since childhood and, as such, have had little reason to ponder or question.
A genre author might have made the story about this mystery, had the characters spend the book searching for the Awful Troof. Instead, Ishiguro’s novel is about the relationships of the characters, of the way children and teenagers behave and how they can hurt each other simply in order to fit in, and, ultimately, of the search of Kathy and Tommy for a way they can, finally, be together, in spite of a system that denies them this opportunity. Kathy and Tommy are not interested in the Awful Troof; in fact, when finally presented with it, they remain unable to understand the way in which others see them, or the reasons for the emotion they attach to the issues. All they want to know is whether they will get their reprieve. By presenting the story this way, the reader still gets their revelation; but layered on top of this is the empathy we are brought to feel for these characters, naive in many ways, who want only to be together. The innocence and acceptance presented by their attitude only compounds the grief felt for the what has been done to these people, the way they have been and will continue to be treated by their society.
A very moving novel, Ishiguro demonstrates a great skill with recreating the perspective of the young child, teenager, and grown woman Kathy, and in deftly handling the way in which the story unfolds, truths opening up to us as the characters grow and their horizons widen. Definately recommended.