Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro – A Review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on March 13, 2009

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying – Martin Luther –  German priest and scholar

If death is a final reality, why do we get so passionate about aspects of our living? This question is a perennial resident in my mind. Depending on the mood it either lies dormant and allows me a good night’s sleep or it gets so focused at times that it keeps me awake. The more I think of it the more enigmatic it becomes.Yet there are two thoughts I employ as answers to wriggle out of this perturbing and tricky question: One is to tell myself that maybe death is not the final reality. The second is that maybe the joy of a life well lived is so very sublime and so very fundamental to our being humans that it makes sense to be absolutely passionate despite the knowledge of this final reality. In other words I tell myself that living is more important than dying and hence it does not matter what this final reality is. But why these leading sentences? I have recently read Kazuo Ishiguro‘s “Never Let Me Go” and found that the central themes of his latest novel to be revolving around death, dying, longing for life and recall of memories of life gone by. Themes that resonate quite well with my own thoughts

Set in an unspecified time in modern day England,”Never Let Me Go” is the recollection by Kathy H of her schooldays at Hailsham and coming of age along with her close friends Tommy and Ruth. The tragic thing is that Kathy, Tom, Ruth and all her friends and acquaintances are clones. They have been brought into existence and reared with the express purpose of being organ donors with little or no choice. Yet for a large part of their lives their purpose on earth and the sorrowful end they are going to put to is never made clear to them. As a result they grow up in an environment of partial information and rumours only to end up building a foggy view of their futures. Yet as they inexorably move towards their predestined future, they too grow up with aspirations, feelings and motives like ordinary human beings and that is what makes their lives so tragic for readers. Towards the end all the clones become donors. Some survive multiple donations and many don’t. Clones who want to delay their inevitable denouements a bit can opt to become carers who provide support clones who already are donors. Humans are involved in their lives mostly as guardians and managers of the special schools where they are groomed. Miss Emily and Marie Claude are two of the guardians who promote a social movement which demands that clones be treated more humanely. They manage to garner support for building institutions like Hailsham where certain liberal impulses like introduction to art to these clones are permitted. As time passes by Kathy moves on to become a carer waiting for her end. Her good friends Tommy and Ruth meet their natural ends by donating their organs in front of her eyes and in her knowing. But in the process they also uncover their destinies and what they are meant for. What makes the book so very tragic is that these near know all clones ultimately succumb to their destiny like cattle lined up for an abbattoir without a murmur of protest

As I read the book I could not stop thinking about the role of free will and if ever we humans unlike the clones can live life on our terms. As we live through our times and our age, we too get caught up and manipulated by vested forces that prompt us ever so subtly for a self serving purpose. To think and protest not only appears impossible but also futile. I hit upon this feeling when I read what Miss Emily says to Kathy and Tom at one stage while explaining a few puzzling events in their lives: “I can see,’ Miss Emily said, ‘that it might look as though you were simply pawns in a game. It can certainly be looked at like that. But think of it. You were lucky pawns. There was a certain climate and now it’s gone. You have to accept that’s how things happen in this world. People’s opinions, their feelings, they go one way, then the other. It just so happens you grew up at a certain point in this process“.  A quick glance of the last two hundred years of our own history is an ample proof to this – we all get sucked into the themes of the age without being aware of it – it just so happens that we just grow up at a certain point in this progress of history

Ishiguro is a like a hangman – gradually tightening the noose of sadness, despair and tragedy round the readers neck. For the first hundred pages of the book one does not even get a sense of what one is getting into. The story that gets laid out appears commonplace and at many places pointless. However, as one starts to get hints of what one is getting into, all that has transpired so far starts to acquire a bigger purpose, hue and gravity. Ishiguro paints a very distressing picture and does so with consummate skill, mastery and absolute control. The trademark first person narrative in the form of Kathy’s haunting narration of her memories is brilliant,contained and mature and the portrayal of loss and grief is starker than what one gets to witness in his other classic “The Remains Of The Day“. I can’t explain why but my vote for the better of his books would still be for “The Remains Of The Day

Of the many functions of fiction,  reminding a reader not only of his essential nature (that of being human) but also the degree of the alignment with his nature is probably the most critical one and Ishiguro‘s fiction does that to all his readers in a style that is inimitable and uniquely his own. Viewed in a different way, “Never Let Me Go” is not about clones but about us humans and our own true nature and predicament viewed from the medium of clones

There is a general feeling among writers that once they are done with a book they would not want to revisit it again. This is a thought very well echoed by John Dos Passos when he said that there is a great sense of relief in a fat volume. I guess as a rule that is also true for readers of books – I mean how many people have read a “War and Peace” or “The Brothers Karamazov” the second time? However, a rule is a rule only when there are exceptions to it and there will be books which both writers and readers would revisit again and again. And in that line of revisitable books Ishiguro‘s “Never Let Me Go” and “The Remains Of The Day” will stand in the forefront

AfterwordNever Let Me Go – by Ishiguro, Arthur & George – by Julian Barnes, The Sea – By John Banville, The Brick Lane by Monica Ali and On Beauty – by Zadie Smith were the finalists for the 2005 Booker — what a tough job the judges would have had in deciding the winner!

BTW, The Sea – By John Banville was the winner

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