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As in Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro presents us with a great conservative novel. Where that earlier effort was reminiscent of George Orwell's Coming Up for Air in its longing for an earlier England, here he channels the Orwell of Animal Farm and 1984 to warn against delusions of a utopian future.

Our narrator is Kathy H., a student at Hailsham boarding school in the English countryside. There is all the hothouse atmosphere we're familiar with in such tales--from Young Torless to Harry Potter--but odd differences keep cropping up. The boarders all seem to be not just orphans but completely family-less. The misses who run the school aren't recognizably of any religious order, but do seem to be mission-driven. One of their obsessions is the health of the students. Another is with creative arts, which they encourage in their wards, collecting the best bits of art.

Kathy has a best friend, Ruth, who isn't actually very nice. She leads an exclusive gang of kids and shuns those who don't follow her blindly. And she forms a relationship with a troubled boy, Tommy, who clearly seems better suited to Kathy. The interactions among the three form the central memories of Kathy, who has moved on from the school and assumed a position as a carer.

SPOILER ALERTS FOLLOW: Carers, as it turns out, tend to former students of the school as their organs are harvested to keep others alive. The students are victims of this process because they are clones, who were created for the purpose. Kathy eventually cares for both Ruth and Tommy and they all try to fix past wrongs. When Tommy and Kathy finally become a couple, they seek to have further donations from Tommy delayed by invoking a long-rumored deferment that is supposedly offered to clone couples who are truly in love. Tommy has convinced himself that the quality of the love between couples is judged on the basis of the art work that was collected from them when they were young, but he was always discouraged from participating. He cobbles together a portfolio that they can present to Madame, the retired head of the now-closed Hailsham for her consideration--Ruth having discovered her address.

BIG SPOILER ALERT: Madame disabuses them of their delusions and reveals that far from showing which students were soulmates, the art was collected so that the misses could argue to a disbelieving society that the clones had souls at all. Indeed, the school and others like it were social experiments intended to make people confront the inhuman way in which they were treating the clones. And the experiment had been brought to an end because no one wanted to hear it. The organs, along with other unnamed medical innovations, offered cures for cancer and the like and that trumped any consideration of the possible humanity of clones.

Over the course of her narrative, Kathy has mentioned how the misses sometimes looked at them like they were spiders, but she's clung to one very human interaction with Madame. Kathy had a favorite song--The Never Let Me Go of the title--and dancing alone to it one day--imaging a mother clutching a child--she looked up to find Madame observing her and weeping. So now she confronts Madame and asks if that wasn't a moment of sympathy with Kathy's dreams:
I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw. It wasn’t really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.

A couple of authors I really like--James Bowman and M. John Harrison--dismiss the scenario of humans abusing clones in this way in their reviews below. After all, our ancestors kept blacks as slaves and considered them sub-human, but we're too advanced now to do such a thing, right? And given how we empower so many of the groups we used to mistreat--gays, for instance--surely we'd give clones special rights before we'd strip them of basic human rights, no? But how then explain our treatment of the sick and elderly who we increasingly euthanize, predictably moving on to those who are merely depressed and think they'd rather die? And how many of the unborn do we have to kill to convince Mr. Bowman and Mr. Harrison that we're perfectly happy to slaughter folks for our personal convenience? Isn't it even the argument of the abortion lobby that killing the unborn is nothing more than a matter of women's health? How certain can we be that we wouldn't kill a clone to cure the cancer of that same mother we let kill her baby for health reasons?

Mr. Ishiguro says that this novel is a product of his desire to consider human mortality and its centrality to the human condition. I think we make a mistake if we assume we wouldn't, even in our enlightened age, do horrible things to avoid that mortality. Consider this a kind of pre-emptive strike, like George W. Bush's executive order on fetal stem cells, that aims to head us off before we mount the slippery slope, or, at least, before we slide too far down it.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

Kazuo Ishiguro Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Kazuo Ishiguro (The Guardian)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Kazuo Ishiguro
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Kazuo Ishiguro (IMDB)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Never Let Me Go
    -WIKIPEDIA: Never Let Me Go
    -Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day - with annotations: Scroll down to see how Kazuo Ishiguro has annotated this copy of his novel. The annotations are in text format at the bottom of the page (The Guardian, 5/18/13)
    - All-TIME 100 Novels :Critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo pick the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923—the beginning of TIME. (TIME)
   
-BOOK LIST: The 20 best books of the decade: What are the books that can be said to have defined the first decade of the millennium? Here, Michael Prodger assesses the literature that shaped our reading habits of the past 10 years, produced new genres, created controversy, and entertained us, and then there are the books that, quite simply, would be hailed as great in any era . (Michael Prodger, 1/21/10, The Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: with Kazuo Ishiguro (Graham Swift, Fall 1989, BOMB)
    -INTERVIEW: Living memories : Kazuo Ishiguro grew up in Guildford but vividly recalls his early childhood in Nagasaki. (Nicholas Wroe, 18 February 2005, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: This much I know: Kazuo Ishiguro: As the film adaptation of his bestselling novel Never Let Me Go hits the screens, the author reflects on past passions, fatherhood and critical abuse (Chris Sullivan, 5 February 2011, The Observer)
    -INTERVIEW: Kazuo Ishiguro: 'There comes a point when you can count the number of books you're going to write before you die. And you think, God, there's only four left' (Decca Aitkenhead, 4/26/09, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: A Case of Cultural Misperception (SUSAN CHIRA, October 28, 1989, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: The hiding place : Kazuo Ishiguro, whose first novel in five years is published next month, is the quiet man of English letters - as spare and subtle as his contemporaries are dazzling and showy says Sukhdev Sandhu. (Sukhdev Sandhu, 06 Mar 2005, The Telegraph)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Never Let Me Go (Grade Saver)
    -READING GUIDE: Never Let Me Go Oprah.com)
    -ARCHIVES: Kazuo Ishiguro (The Telegraph)
    -ARCHIVES: Kazuo Ishiguro (New Statesman)
    -ARCHIVES: Ishiguro (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Ishiguro (The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (James Bowman, New Atlantis)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Andrew Barrow, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Siddhartha Deb, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Sarah Kerr, NY Times Books Review)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Philip Hensher, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (A.N. Wilson, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Theo Taitt, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Caroline Moore, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (James Browning, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Maureen Corrigan, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Rachel Cusk, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (M. John Harrison, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Lev Grossman, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Katie Davis, Literary Traveler)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Books Speak Volumes)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Never Let Me Go (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro (Tom Fleming, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Nocturnes (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Nocturnes (Leo Robson, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Nocturnes (John Preston, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Nocturnes (Jane Schilling, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (Complete Review) FILM:
    -INFO: Never Let Me Go (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mark Romanek (IMDB)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Never Let Me Go (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Noel Murray, AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (James Berardinelli, ReelViews)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (David Denby, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Richard Corliss, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of Never Let Me Go (Tim Robey, The Telegraph)

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