Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just Read :: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is my first experience with Kazuo Ishiguro's gifted prose.  His language has an intelligent and occasionally elegiac sort of conversational tone, as if Kathy H was sitting across from you, with an infinite source of memories and the time to tell and connect them.  From the start, I felt as if I had to question her reliability, for she is already defending herself from the first page.  "I'm not trying to boast," she tells us, and she informs us that "I'm not making any big claims for myself" just a few sentences later.  For the rest of the novel, however, only her viewpoint is shared, which kindles a question in my mind--is her perception of the events of her life accurate, or is it shaded by what she wants to make of it?

This question, in turn, shaded my reading of the rest of the novel, and yet kept me enchanted.  Kathy H does not often describe her emotions, but rather her reactions.  Everything feels hushed, covered up, and I believe this is exactly what Ishiguro intended, because that is the experience of the characters.  Their lives are hushed and hidden from most of the world, and the outside world is hidden from and hushed for them.  People would like to forget that they exist.  Even the people who fight to improve their lives--at least for a little while--want to hide and live quietly in the end, unable to face the reality of who Kathy, Ruth, Tommy, and the other children from Hailsham really are.  

I'm intentionally obscuring the plot because I feel this is a novel you have to read for yourself.  I still haven't decided what I think, honestly.  I don't know if I can sympathize with anyone--Kathy, Ruth, Tommy, Madame, or any of the teachers.  I wonder if Ishiguro meant for Miss Lucy to be the one good teacher, who loved the students fully for who they were, or if Miss Emily and Madame are the ones that actually love the students, and Miss Lucy is a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing.  Is Miss Lucy better than the other teachers because she confronts the truth and lets the children know their future, or is it better that Miss Emily deliberately shelters them, telling them only little bits at a time, and gives them a childhood?

In the end, the most deep-seated question is simply this: are Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy real, true, full people, or are we going to imagine that they are not, so that their fate does not weigh on our hearts--and regardless of the answer to this question, we have to ask ourselves how we could ever decide what it is that makes a person.  It's a heavy question, and a heavy book, but Ishiguro executes his prose so gracefully and beautifully that every page somehow remains light.  What's the verdict? Read it.

Never Let Me Go is available for purchase through better world books here or at your local bookstore.  Please see my first just read post for my thoughts on where to buy books, and my favorite book shop in my hometown.  You can also rent the movie, but a lot of things are different, so be prepared for that.  I loved it enough to buy it, but in a different way from how I love the book.  It's worth watching for the visual appeal alone; the entire film has an ephemeral atmosphere.  Since I could never, ever tell someone to watch a movie instead of reading a book, I recommend you do both.


Laura said...

Oh good! I've been wanting to read this! I saw the movie a little while ago and was not impressed. I felt like I missed out on a lot of the characterization and pacing that was important in the book. I'll be sure to pick it up!

Elizabeth said...

I want to read this book very much - I have to add it to my list...

Katie Bee said...

You should!