Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
- I’m starting to think any book under the genre of “literary fiction” has to meet one of three definitions:
1) Has a plot that is mostly some kind of allegory but when you get down to it really just means nothing much happens.
2) Include detailed but detached and unexciting descriptions of sex. This shows you, the writer, and you, the reader, are adult, and have had sex, but that you totally don’t care about it.
3) Steals ideas from science fiction without any of the important science and plausible future parts of science fiction, thus keeping the genre “prestigious,” unlike the genre or pulp fiction the ideas originated in.
Never Let Me Go manages to hit all three definitions. Bravo. Much like an Oscar-winning film can never be a comedy, it seems an award-winning literary fiction can’t have anything happy in it.
Never Let Me Go has an entrancing and incredibly detailed narrative form; the main character, Kathy, is conversational and rambling, like she’s telling you her story as she takes you on a long winding drive through the English countryside. She gets introspective, and the story ebbs and flows with her memory, darting off on little tangents as she tastes the memory on her tongue.
Other reviewers praise this novel as a meditation on the human condition. I see it more as a story about a mean girl at boarding school who no one bothered to intervene against and a bunch of people who have absolutely no agency. What happens in the book? Absolutely nothing. Much of the story is told in the past tense, but even then, the characters had very little action. It’s like watching a high school class on an over-hot day; sure, little dramas flare up, but nothing really happens and it won’t matter at all by the next day.
Some people–I imagine folks who aren’t familiar with good sci-fi or movies like The Island or Gattaca or Star Wars or Jurassic Park or shows like Dark Angel or Star Trek–praise this book for its content about clones. But–*yawn*–that “twist” was screaming from very early on and utterly unsurprising, and moreover, utterly undeveloped. As I said, it is as if Ishiguro wanted to take the ideas of sci-fi without dirtying his hands with actual science fiction. He hand-waves away all the pertinent questions about how this works or why the clone people are totally fine it with all and do nothing to resist. Even perfectly mundane questions like ‘what does a carer actually do?’ and ‘are clones different from regular humans at all? 4 kidneys, perhaps? Spider-silk milk? Need special injections to avoid the Anything at all?’ are never even broached. (Personally I choose to believe clones had multiples of desirable organs, accounting for the ability to donate multiple times without dying.) So for fans of sci-fi, the book doesn’t really contribute to the conversation about the ethics of cloning at all. The only “new” thing is that the clones are uncaring about the whole thing, and even that is just sort of a shrug and a “just because.”
The book was very well-written but disappointing. It never did anything with the story. Also, the author uses the phrase “completely daft” a few too many times. Daft indeed.