Sunday, 7 February 2016

Post 26: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I am beginning to see great advantages to the miserable weather we have enjoyed this winter. Long grey days with rain and gale force winds are not conducive to outdoor activity, and so, to quote a famous opening line, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day..." or the next day, or the day after that! And so, dear reader, I, like Jane Eyre, have been behind the arras submerged in my books.

After my sojourn to Henley last week, I have re-examined my bookshelf for novels enthusiastically purchased but then left to languish unread. And so I came across Kazuo Ishiguro. His novels have been a gap in my reading and so I chose Never Let Me Go, a Man Booker shortlister in 2005, to start me off.  I had always laboured under the misconception that Ishiguro's novels would be difficult, too literary, and more descriptive than plot-based.  I had no basis for these prejudices other than the slightly ethereal, pastel book jackets!

And I was happy to be proved totally wrong.  I really enjoyed this book.  I described it to my husband as a dystopian Malory Towers!  The narrator is the protagonist, Kathy H, and Ishiguro plays with the chronology of events in order to gradually reveal the full context.  References are made from the opening chapter to "donors" and "carers", with some of those Kathy cared for cited as coping well even up to their fourth donation.  So, from the outset there is a notion that some people are being used as multiple live organ donors for others.  The fourth donation is seen as the most significant.  After this, many donors "complete."  It is clear from the lexis, that this is a dystopia.  It is disturbingly, a highly plausible one.

Relationships are significant in the novel, and Kathy refers to Ruth and Tommy from the outset.  This triumvirate is central to the plot and Ishiguro weaves their friendships, lives and loves through Kathy's recollection of different events.

Ham House: the setting for Hailsham school in the film version
Hailsham is the setting for part one.  This is where my comparison to Malory Towers comes in.  Kathy's memories centre on them being children together at Hailsham. They sleep in dormitories, are called students, have lessons but their teachers, Guardians, as they are denoted, are more interested in art and craft than in other areas of the curriculum. This is something that most students accept, but both Tommy and Kathy mull over, trying to work out its significance.  The importance of the art work is made more mysterious by the character of Madame, who visits the school regularly to collect the best pieces for the elusive "gallery."  Ruth is certain that "Madame's scared of us," which helps to sustain the mystery of the character of Madame and the distinction implied between her and the pupils.

Part two moves beyond Hailsham when the three students remain together at the cottages, each ostensibly there to write something resembling a dissertation. It is in part two that we see the characters interact with what we perceive to be normal life.  They are given freedom to travel, and spend a day together in Cromer in North Norfolk.  This is where my in-laws had a guest house, so I enjoyed the descriptions of the North Coast town, amused by the curious belief set up in Hailsham
Cromer High Street
that all lost things found their way to Norfolk.  And so it is that Tommy and Kathy spend an hour in the charity shops, hunting for items they had misplaced in their youth!  Having whiled many an hour in the second hand bookshops in the town, I fully empathised with their search! The purpose of the visit is greater than this however, as all five characters are intrigued by the sighting of Ruth's "possible" and what this may mean for their own lives.  Thus, part two shows Kathy and her friends probing what it means to be who they are.  Their purpose isn't fully revealed at this point, but it is clear that they cannot stay in the cottages forever, and that they, at some point, need to put themselves forward for the final training that will enable them to fulfil their destinies.

The final part focuses on Kathy in adulthood, showing what it means to be a carer.  Here we have access to the lives that each of them went on to lead beyond Hailsham and the cottages.  And it is in this third section, set in the donation centres, that the full dystopian context is revealed.

I found this compelling, very easy to read and beautifully written.  From letting Kazuo Ishiguro flounder unread on my shelves for too long, I am now eager to read everything he has written. This book, it states in the blurb, is "a novel with piercing questions about humanity and humaneness."Sunday Times.  I agree. This is the best of dystopias...chillingly credible.

My next read is going to be one of my Bell Book shop purchases, A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks.

As I type, I can hear more rain sploshing onto the flat roof of the bay window.  Nothing for it then, but to make 2016 the year of the book! I counted my novels yesterday (as you do), and I think that the 470 I have in the lounge, should be enough to keep me busy through the deluge!

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