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Saturday 27 January 2018

Review: Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

This is a long, leisurely book, with a single narrator who does not have the benefit of a university education and who sustains a straightforward simplicity of expression throughout. Kathy is sometimes distracted by her own line of thinking and recalls herself to subject matter from which she has digressed with an Anyway or an As I was saying. It’s beautifully done. Ishiguro creates a mystery which is only slowly revealed, information dripped into the narrative bit by bit.

The plot could be labelled as sci-fi or dystopian fantasy, but it hews so close to ordinary reality that it is really an extended metaphor for life’s journey. True, it is distinctive that Ishiguro’s characters have no natural parents - they are cloned human beings – and their lives are organised by an invisible state apparatus which provides them with guardians and an education and a career path about which there seems to be no choice: they are to become organ donors, and they will begin to donate while still young and will expect to die (though they use the word complete) no later than their fourth donation. When they complete, all their remaining organs will be harvested for use – a fact which Ishiguro slips in at page 274 of his 282 page book.

So we are born, we live our lives and we die. The distinctive feature of the lives of the clones is that, having no parents, and discharged from guardianship at sixteen, they are used to looking after each other. Indeed, eventually they all become carers to donors before becoming donors themselves. Their lives are very closely intertwined, and so Ishiguro can write a delicate story of intimate relationships, their ups and downs, their moments of frustration and of greatness, their breakdowns .

It seems there is no way of altering your destiny, and when Ishiguro introduces the possibility that there might be in Chapter Nineteen(pages 214 – 232) it is at the same time the first moment of emotional release in the book, a Greater Love … moment when one of the three principal characters, Ruth, holds out a chance to Kathy and Tommy which is also life-sacrificing on her part. She holds out to them a possible route for delaying the moment at which they will become donors. If they are true lovers, they may be able to get a deferral.

But Charon does not allow deferrals now anymore than he allowed one to David Hume; the rumour of their existence is a myth and Chapter Twenty Two is devoted to revealing that (pp 251 – 270), opening the way for a closing Chapter Twenty Three (pp 271 – 282) where Tommy and then Kathy reconcile themselves to the inevitable. Here once again, Ishiguro is writing to release the store of emotion he has built up inside us and, at least for this reader, succeeds.

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