Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

"I really love Ishiguro's books", several of the groupies opined when Never Let Me Go was chosen as out book group novel. I had only tried to read one of his before - not successfully – I had obviously not tried hard enough.

So it was with a positive and determined attitude that I tackled it. He's a good writer. No doubt about it. The novel is set in the closed world of a school, one in which little of the outside world ever impinges. It is the story of three childhood friends (Kathy, Ruth and Tommy) who have a destiny – slowly this unfolds – that they will have no choice but fulfil.

In a nutshell there is a sinister aspect and definite exploitation in this story. It raises ethical questions about medical science – trying not to give the story away here - and how far a society will go in order to benefit from it.

Ishiguro always writes in the first person and so the reader does not get much description. There is – he planned it this way – no colour and no sense of the outside world in the story. The setting feels like the 1950's – right from the start it felt like I was reading the Midwich Cuckoos for the first time. Used as we readers are to appreciating rounded description the lack of it lends a very sci-fi clarity – some may say bleakness – to it.

It is all about the here and now of experience, about emotion and about people and the setting is filtered out. Ishiguro would argue that by filtering out the setting he is allowing his readers to get to know the characters. However, the only character any of us felt any empathy for was Tommy. Possibly because he was not like an automaton – he did have feelings.

The characters often fail to act and Ishiguro uses pathos to good effect. His structure and slow revelation is masterful and his craftsmanship – that almost sounds like a criticism but far from it – to slowly let the reader in on the sinister secret is impressive.

All of us appreciated that it was well written – clever in fact - but many of us found much of it repetitive and the detail mundane. In a nutshell, we liked the way Ishiguro writes but did not necessarily like the story.

For my part I would not have chosen the book if it had not been a book group choice and I would never have read it all if we had not been going to discuss it (it did, however, give rise to much interesting and informative discussion). I appreciated the author's undoubted talent – to a great extent it is always a pleasure to read a well written novel – but I guess it is just not my sort of book!