There’s something endearing about the title of this novel. It sounds like the ultimate request of someone who is deeply in love, which when not granted, would render the person incapable of going on.
This novel spurred a lot of attention by holding the reputation of being the most recently published book in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best Novels. It’s exactly that reason it got me reeling. I thought that it should be The Remains of the Day instead, although I only read that after reading this. And the release of Never Let Me Go’s film adaptation only piqued my curiosity further.
I made it a point to read the book first before watching the film. I immediately bought a movie tie-in edition once it was out in the local book stores. Since I read it last year, a lot has already been said, both from the lovers and the haters. I even unofficially moderated a book talk regarding this, and I haven’t written anything about it yet.
So I guess now is the time.
My name is Kathy H. That’s the opening line. It’s not exactly something that you would find in the department of great opening lines. But really, there’s a sense of mystery in this simple introduction.
Why is her surname just that, a lone letter? If one does not have an idea on what the novel is about, the reader might think from that introductory sentence that the narrator is a porn star. But all suppositions are dropped as the narrator immediately tells us what she does and how old she is.
She’s a carer. Shouldn’t that be a caretaker, or a caregiver? What difference would it make anyway if she is either one of the two? And what is she caring for?
She’s caring donors. She’s in her thirties, I think. I imagine she’s 31, or maybe 28. I cannot remember, but wherever her age exactly falls between the two numbers, it’s still a relatively short time to live one’s life, even if one is only shooting for the fifties.
So she’s dying? Not yet, but that would be soon enough, especially if she does not do well on her first donation. So there’s a second donation then? Or even more? And why would she donate her organs if that would endanger her life?
Well, that’s the way it is, at least for her, and the likes of her. What is wrong? What is she anyway?
She’s a clone. The film adaptation hastily explains that in their world, the medical sciences have discovered a fool-proof method of cloning humans. Oh, so this novel is science fiction then.
It is, loosely, but a nonreader of science fiction does not even realize this. The scientific framework is almost stripped off the novel, so there’s no talk of the omniscient eyes of Big Brother in 1984 or the explanation on how those drugs work in Brave New World. I think that this in itself is a commendable feat.
Oh, it’s a dystopian novel then. It is. It’s yet another study of a society’s disintegration given a certain set of conditions. The world is cloning people so that people can use the clones’ young, healthy organs to extend their lives. Their human lives. Which explains why Kathy H is rummaging her life before she ends her career as a carer and start a new one as a donor. Could you even call those two as careers?
There’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I haven’t read it yet, but I think it’s about humans falling in love with clones. What reason would there be to read another novel about clones then if you have already read Dick’s novel? I daresay that this is not largely about clones. I think it’s more about people resigning to whatever is left to them. It’s about ceasing to struggle and accepting things as they are, and this could be the more sensible choice.
That somehow explains this notorious question: why didn’t those clones run away and live happily ever after? Security over them is not too tight, and they might have had a chance if they tried, right? Why this helplessness? Why this stupidity?
That question is also raised by book critics, putting it in such a way that made it look like the author overlooked a grand flaw in building a plot. I myself wanted the protagonists to escape, but in the end, I thought it would be a whole different thing if they did escape. I might not even have liked the novel if that happened.
Ishiguro mentioned that he was not interested in the possibility of escaping and rebuilding lives. He was after exactly what he wrote, an exploration of a life doomed, growing up with all these insinuations that you are different, that you have to look for yourself and for your kind, being fed with all the subtleties that not any one of you can be a bus driver or an actor or whatever it is that you hope to be, realizing that you cannot lose a thing that never was yours, realizing still that you can hardly own what was never meant for you, and realizing further that whatever you lost cannot rush back to you in perfect condition on the shores.
That one may only have scraps for a life, and to want more will just break you apart. And to contain all these will surely wring the inner tumult out of your skin. And after that, a sense of disquiet. A wrangling mix of hope and despair. A stillness, disquiet still, and waiting, waiting.