Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sci-Fi Fans, Beware! This Book Isn’t For You!

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, 2005, 304pp.)

Set in the late 1990s in England, Ishiguro’s novel centers on Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three young people raised at Hailsham, a special boarding school for clones. They grow up with the knowledge that they will be allowed to live into their late twenties before they’re required to begin donating their vital organs through a series of operations. The novel reminds me of Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife in that it employs a science fiction premise (time travel as a genetic disorder), but chooses instead to focus entirely on the domestic elements of day-to-day life. Unlike the The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is by far an easier read than Ishiguro’s meandering text, the reader gets no grasp of the characters at all. The main body of the narrative consists of Kathy’s passive reminisces of her childhood and young adulthood at Hailsham, as well as her occupation as a “carer,” a sort of hospice job for the still whole clones to look after the dying ones who, as the novel puts it, are “close to completion.” The way Kathy goes through her memories in a “By the way, that reminds me of the time...” sort of manner is positively infuriating. There’s no flow to the story, which made my reading experience of plowing through this disjointed novel very frustrating.

Its use of science fiction elements is another problem. Being from a family that reveres classic science fiction (literature by authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, etc. that speculates about futuristic ideas and how they would affect society), I found myself unable to take this novel seriously. You would think that such a fictional society wouldn’t be the England of today, but perhaps an England in an alternate universe where the Nazis won World War II. Naturally, having already eradicated the Jewish race and other undesirables, such a society would have no qualms whatsoever about allowing the barbarity of forced organ donation to take place. The fictional society of Never Let Me Go, however, is more or less exactly the same as the real-life England that Ishiguro himself calls home. As an author, he is too lazy to address the questions that will inevitably surface with the subject of cloning: in a society so very similar to our own, how is it that human rights groups would allow forced organ donation to go unchallenged? Besides, why clone people? If science has progressed so far that cloning people is commonplace, then why can’t they just clone organs? I understand that, strictly put, this novel is meant to be a literary one, despite its dystopian premise, but the author really has no business messing about with such a subject unless he’s prepared to fully explore it. In other words: Sci-fi fans, beware! Fans of literary fiction may like it, but this book isn’t for you!

Click on cover for image source.

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