This was a book I expected to fall head-over-heels in love with, which, for the most part, had lived up to my expectations (Spoilers ahead).
Never Let Me Go follows the story of Kathy H. as she remembers her and her friends’ journey through Hailsham, the Cottages, and finally, their donations. In all technicalities, it is a sci-fi/dystopian, but the quality of the prose and the narrative voice made me believe in every detail, thus reading more like nonfiction.
I was deeply touched by this book, but not as much as I had expected. I teared up a little bit after Tommy and Kathy visited Madame, when Tommy screamed and Kathy held him to her, but the last few sentences did not deliver a fatal punch to my stomach. I expected to throw this book into the corner because I already knew what the ending had to be, I expected to scream and cry about the fates of these fictional clones, I expected to feel something more than I actually did. Instead, the book left me feeling empty and desperate, not unlike 1984 had.
“The fantasy never got beyond that—I didn‟t let it—and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn‟t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”
This is a book about many things: destiny, love, bias. The main characters introduced to the readers were all clones, resigned to a fate of donating their vital organs until they “finish”. The clones themselves never tried to rebel, never tried to take over a “corrupted government”, but patiently awaited their fate. Even the word “finish” suggests that the sole purpose of their lives was to save other people from diseases, as if they were subhuman, as if they were objects that were thrown away after they’ve fulfilled their purposes.
One question that this book prompted me to think about was whether blissful ignorance is better than burdened knowledge. This is a question I’ve wondered for a long time and have tried to find the answer to through writing several short stories, yet I still do not have a definite answer to, and I don’t believe there is one. This is the kind of question that only holds its truth in each and every person.
Another issue this book addressed was bias and racism. The idea that the students, or clones, were shunned by society and forced to endure a fate so cruel, seemed to shadow racism in our own world. The clones literally possessed the same DNA as humans, but the way they are conceived seperated them from the rest of society.
The prose was plain and conversational, leading me to picture Kathy at my bedside after my third donation, telling me her time at Hailsham, about Tommy and Ruth, about her life story.
I was often frustrated with this book. Because as much as I loved Kathy, Ruth bothered me to no end, despite when she tried to “redeem” herself in the end. I was frustrated at Kathy, frustrated because she didn’t do anything when things just happened to her, didn’t try to seperate Tommy and Ruth when they first started dating. It all added in to the futile feeling of the world, the belief that nothing could be done, that the characters were all resigned to their fate.
This was an incredibly dark and depressing read, for it speaks to a world where there was no Aslan, no Katniss, no Harry. At times there is a glimmer of hope at best (when I thought, maybe, just maybe, Tommy and Kathy would get the deferral), but Ishiguro crushed them all in the end.
“It never occured to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we’d understood that back then – who knows? – maybe we’d have kept a tighter hold of one another.”
I read Never Let me Go much like I read 1984 because of its sheer bleakness. In some aspects, it was even more hopeless than 1984 because at least Winston saw hope in the proles, at least he thought of a rebellion. But after reading this book, I can’t see Kathy or Tommy or Ruth or any of the others attempt to save themselves from their cruel fate, and that is a truly depressing thought.