3 Apr 2011

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro - Book

I saw a trailer for this film a while ago and had heard that it was a book.  Then one day I was trawling through a book shop in Sheffield and there it was staring at me on top of a pile!  I bought it, and had read it within four days.  Again, very tired.

This is a very unique book, and I would now like to see the film.  The book leaves a lot to your imagination, and this adds a sinister touch because you can suspect the worst and it is never denied nor confirmed.  I now need to warn you that I am going to spoil the plot, but not the ending (never the ending).

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are Hailsham students.  They have led entirely innocent and sheltered lives, and there is something particularly unusual about them.  I quickly learnt that they are in fact clones.  No detailed explanation is given until the last chapter, it was here I learnt that in the early fifties major scientific breakthroughs were made.  Scientists discovered that illnesses such as cancer could be cured using clones.  This discovery was rushed into blindly and of course the inevitable moral dilemma slowly arose after it was too late to turn back.  The clones brought up at Hailsham were given a happy, carefree childhood.  They learnt about the 'world outside' and were also encouraged to be creative and artistic - their work would be taken away every so often to 'the gallery', an elusive place that no one really knows much about.  Certain encounters the students have with the guardians suggest that something much larger is happening around them, and also suggests that they do not really understand what they are, what prejudices lie ahead for them, or what quality of life they are missing by being clones and not normal human beings.

The most poignant example of hints at something sinister are the rumours about the wood that lies beyond the school's grounds.  All kinds of gruesome and frightening rumours circulate about the wood, and this causes the students to never attempt to run away.  Is it a rumour, or is it a mechanism?  A deterrent?  A story that was planted carefully to keep the students where they are, without having to explain to them the truth about where they are and why they shouldn't run away.

The story is told entirely from Kathy's point of view.  I felt this made the story all the more heartbreaking since as the reader you can see that although she is a clone, she is just a normal child.  She is as human as the woman her genetic make-up was taken from.  All the thoughts she has and all the things that happen between herself, Ruth and Tommy will never be fully witnessed or fully understood by anyone on the outside, because no one would dare get that close to a clone, and she would never think the outside needed to see it.  Then because of this, they will never have a chance of an alternative life.

After leaving Hailsham, the 'students' as they are called, are sent to various other housing sites to spend some more time growing up.  Then they leave to begin work as a carer.  Being a carer involves looking after clones who are being donors - being a donor is the final stage in the life of a clone.  Some clones 'complete' (die) after two to three donations, some four.  After the fourth donation, the clone is left to vegetate as more and more of their organs are taken from them.  It's a very dismal existence, but the students don't seem to see it that way - they see it as neither good nor bad, just the next natural step.

In spite of all the doom and gloom, it's clear that the clones are very much human.  Ruth and Tommy become a couple, but it's obvious that Kathy and Tommy would be much better suited.  It's perfectly clear, in fact, that they love each other.   The tense relationship between Ruth and Kathy is interesting, because although Kathy is jealous, she doesn't seem to realise it or admit it. 

A few years down the line the three of them cross paths again, Ruth is almost completed and Kathy is working as her carer.  Ruth asks Kathy to become Tommy's carer, and admits she always knew they should be together.  After Ruth is gone, I expected much more emotion from Kathy, but I don't think her lack of it was in any way cold or heartless.  I think it was more an acceptance that that's how it is for students.  In addition, they were always 'told but not told' about the reason for their existence.  They know what's going to happen, but not the specific details so they just go along with it as and when it happens.  It is like they are brainwashed into being unaffected and detached.

Kathy then becomes Tommy's carer and the two of them track down a woman they knew as 'Madame' who used to collect the work for the gallery at Hailsham.  Here they learn the truth about Hailsham and about students across the country.  All I can say is they take it surprisingly well!

The ending is very solitary, sober and quiet, scarily realistic and numbingly expected.  Obviously I know we don't have clones, and after reading this book I hope we never, ever do, because I couldn't help feeling that if we did then the world presented in Never Let Me Go may not be far off the mark.  When I was about three quarters of the way through, I knew how it was going to end, and I spent each chapter hoping and wishing wildly that it would end differently.

Never Let Me Go made me think about how everyone has the right to make their own deicisons, quality of life and freedom, and how this right can so easily be abused, or even completely ignored.  The treatment hinted at for some of the clones is reminiscent of concentration camps, and it is quite depressing.

I would be really interested to see the film as this is a very delicate book - you are constantly running alongisde Kathy's mind and her memories, which means there a lot of tangents and subject changes.  Never Let Me Go is captivating, solemn and melancholic.