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From Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I recently finished Ishiguro’s latest. It’s vaguely Sci-Fi (although it takes place in the ’90s), character driven, and written in the listless (maybe “composed”, postively stated) prose that characerized much of When We Were Orphans. Here’s a sample:

There have been times over the years when I’ve tried to leave Hailsham behind, when I’ve told myself I shouldn’t look back so much. But then there came a point when I just stopped resisting. It had to do with this particular donor I had once, in my third year as a carer; it was his reaction when I mentioned I was from Hailsham. He’d just come through his third donation, it hadn’t gone well, and he must have known he wasn’t going to make it. He could hardly breathe, but he looked towards me and said: “Hailsham. I bet that was a beautiful place.” Then the next morning, when I was making conversation to keep his mind off it all, and I asked where he’d grown up, he mentioned some place in Dorset and his face beneath the blotches went into a completely new kind of grimace. And I realized then how desperately he didn’t want to be reminded. Instead, he wanted to hear about Hailsham.

So over the next five or six days, I told him whatever he want to know, and he’d lie there, all hooked up, a gentle smile breaking through. He’d ask me about the big things and the little things. About our guardians, about how we each had our own collection chests under our beds, the football, the rounders, the little path that took you all round the outside of the main house, round all its nooks and crannies, the duck pond, teh food, the view from the Art Room over the fields … that was when I first understood, really understood, just how lucky we’d been – Tommy, Ruth, me, all the rest of us.

The reader is really in much the same relation to the narrator as the unfortunate donor, clinging to the story in hopes that her memories will become his memories. The specialized vocabulary is creepy – even a word like “carer” seems sinister in context. Euphemisms like “completing” (as this donor is in the process of) are obvious, but perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch that in an Anodyne New World just these kinds of words would become popular. The intense focus on memories and relations between the characters is what makes this novel more literary than “mere” science fiction, but I actually like the gadgetry and enthusiam that propels most science fiction written in the Amazing Stories mode. The story also seems plagued by what struck me as obvious problems in this alternate universe. How can somewhat like the minor character above make three donations? Is making this kind of small talk really a form of caring? If these clones are real, live humans walking and driving around, what’s to stop them from going into hiding? There’s a hint of an answer to this question at the end of the story, I think, that’s fairly chilling. I just wasn’t sure whether the author realized why it was so disturbing, communicated as it is in this prosey haze. Let’s trust that he did, and consider the book an achievement.

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