Never Let Me Go

Just finished Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Karthik, I know this is supposed to be your ‘homework’. If you’re still stuck with winsome sales girls peddling Danielle Steel novels, stop reading now.

OK, the Ishiguro. For an almost anti-septic / hospital corners sort of book, I must say, it had me all choked up by the end. With my 3 1/2 books worth of experience with this author, am beginning to discern the common themes. The actual pattern of each book may have some fancy (and in this case, not so fancy) penmanship, but it’s starting to feel like all the tales where woven on the same frame – memories of a better life, loss, and the absolute inevitability of that loss.

Never Let Me Go, for all its faults (& I’ll come to them) offers a sense of closure that I haven’t experienced before with this author. (For the record, I’ve read When We Were Orphans, Remains of the Day, about half of An Artist of the Floating World, and a teeny bit of The Unconsoled.) I vaguely remember reading some complaints about the climax of Never Let Me Go – just want to say that the climax is the least of my complaints with this work.

Is Ishiguro a fatalist? Well, that doesn’t matter, really. I suppose it would help if you were a fatalist when reading Ishiguro. The butler from Darlington Hall, the detective from Shanghai, the grandfather from post-war Japan, and now Kathy H. from Hailsham all try to reach out for happiness. Happiness is almost always equated with restoring some period from the characters’ pasts – an idyllic time, whose worth they were too young or too busy to notice back then. It isn’t that they sit back and twiddle their thumbs. As much as it goes against their grain, each of these characters does make the effort to reach out for his or her share of happiness. But in novel after novel, they fail. Because it’s too late. Because no one can bring back the past. Because it simply wasn’t meant to be? Reading Ishiguro always makes me sad.

So much for my two cents worth on Ishiguro’s “broader themes”. Let us return to the specifics of Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro’s brilliance has always been in painting that perfect world – that perfect past that his characters so desperately yearn to restore / relive. Till date, he has done an excellent job of selling the reader on the attractiveness of this past. He fails to do so in Never Let Me Go. I really didn’t see what was so fantastic about Hailsham.

The reason I fell in love with this author is because he is so darn amazing at evoking a certain period, a certain world. God, they say, is in the details. And so is Ishiguro. The large English household, the social hierarchy downstairs, the mannerisms, the white lies, the preparations involved in hosting a grand dinner party, right down to the tea cups, and the napkins, and the cucumber sandwiches – every intricate detail is captured. And presented to you in a way that you don’t ever feel overwhelmed or bored. Hailsham is no Darlington Hall.

Nor is it the International Settlement of Shanghai. The elaborate games two little boys play over a summer made for fascinating reading. Hailsham, while full of children, is also full of forgettable characters, forgettable incidents.

As for the actual “theme” of this book – the allusions to science, and our misguided advances in science, Ishiguro leaves too much unsaid. By choosing to remain vague, he doesn’t even provoke, let alone answer troubling questions. If you’re looking to get jolted into thinking about where we might be headed, I’d suggest you try Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re not into reading, watch Gattaca.

The final verdict (as if one were needed after almost a page and a half of dissing the poor book) – Never Let Me Go is most certainly NOT my favorite Ishiguro. But not unlike Ishiguro’s characters, I also remember the good old days. I remember Christopher Banks & Akira and the fun I had reading about their games. I remember Stevens & his Miss Kenton, and the daily crises at Darlington Hall. I remember Masuji Ono & the grand times at the Migi-Hidari. Perhaps in his next book, I’ll find another place, another character to add to my memories of great reads.


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