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"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is now a movie. I'd like to see it eventually, but the book made me sad enough that I'm not in a huge hurry. It's a societal SF novel as opposed to a scientific SF novel, about specially bred children whose whole purpose is to serve as organ donors. The narrator, Kathy H, has been a "carer" for 12 years, her task being to support donors going through their surgeries until they "complete", that being the euphemism for "die".

The story follows her and her friends Ruth and Tommy from their days at Hailsham, the school where they live, to adulthood and donation. The focus on the story is on how they keep their own human identity and dignity.

We don't learn much about the England in which they live because the characters themselves don't know much about it. Their world is perhaps a little more self-contained than is realistic, and at the end of the book I wasn't sure what a "carer" actually *did* beyond visit donors. We hear that Kathy has been allowed to work as a carer for so long because she's so good at it, but never get a feel for what qualities make her so.

The book raises more questions than it answers, but the way the characters do their best to be "normal", even if it means copying mannerisms from television, has its own poignancy. Not a long read, not completely satisfying, but still one I'd recommend.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2011 03:47 am (UTC)
This one is on my list. I read another of his, Remains of the Day, and loved it.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:35 am (UTC)
Saw this on Fandomsecrets and I'm intrigued, but I'm scared to read/watch because it seems like it could make me non-functional for days.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 09:54 am (UTC)
I saw the movie last weekend and thought it was completely stupid. Maybe the book was stunning but the movie didn't even make sense from a scientific viewpoint. I don't want to give spoilers but they used justifications that the donors put an end to breast cancer. How can organ donation cure cancer? And why raise these clones in a posh boarding school? The character seemed all too passive regarding their fate. It wasn't realistic on any level and so I couldn't identify or sympathize with the characters the way you were meant to.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
The more I think about it, the more plot holes show up. There's no good reason given for the passivity of the characters. Sure, they don't have real life skills, but even living homeless somewhere would be better than the future they faced. I also wasn't clear why they "donated" one organ at a time; why not do what most SF dystopias do and just kill them and harvest everything? What about children who need organ donations; all the donors were adults. The posh boarding school in the book has a reason, and actually that was the most believable part.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
The reason for the school didn't come across in the film, at least not to me. Can you explain? I'm curious. :)
Feb. 22nd, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)

The school was founded as part of a protest movement to treat the students as human beings until their "completions". Up until that point, they had been regarded and treated as non-humans because it is easier for the public to accept (and use) the system if they consider the donors as non-humans.

Hailsham was a program for a few decades that was ultimately intended to end the cloning-for-donation system by raising the children not only as human, but as privileged humans, with their art and poetry as evidence of their humanity. It was one of only three such institutions, and the book has Kathy wondering why donors who are from other centres are eager to hear stories about Hailsham and daydreaming of having grown up there.

Still doesn't explain why students just don't run away. The movie "The Island" gave a much more logical system.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this! I think the movie is but a pale shadow of the book.
Feb. 23rd, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
I think it depends on the kind of cancer, where it is, and whether or not it's metastasized. In theory a donation could help, if it's at the stage where organ removal would eliminate it and it's an organ you need. The only way I could see it curing breast cancer is if lung transplants cured metastatic breast cancer (I'm pretty sure lung often invades the breast, but that could be the other way around -- I really hate this pathology class). If it could keep the cancer from metastasizing, though, I could see how it could indirectly put an end to those types (which are the more dangerous anyway).

Mmkay, now that I feel like I've answered a question for a path exam. As for why they didn't run, if they've been raised since their earliest memories in what's essentially brainwashing camp, I don't find it at all unreasonable that most don't think to get away or fight. Some probably still would, but if it was programmed into them since early childhood that this was the only way and there was no escape, I don't think most would try to do anything about it. People have been brainwashed to believe crazier things IRL, even without such systematic and lifelong programming.

/I haven't read the book. I just like science and psychology.
Feb. 24th, 2011 09:19 am (UTC)
I don't think there's been a single human institution, even slavery, that's been free of rebellion. You can brainwash all you want, but some individual will rebel or even just think about it. That none of the characters even contemplated it, seems too passive and unreal.
Feb. 24th, 2011 01:16 pm (UTC)
Didn't say that. I said it's realistic that most wouldn't. And if they chose to tell the story about some of the ones who didn't, I don't see a huge problem with that. (Actually it's kinda more unique because most stories like this are always about the ones who did.) Just depends on what type of story they want to tell.
Feb. 24th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
In the interest of good storytelling, the author should have at least mentioned rumours of those who had run away, both to show the POV characters' response to it and to assure the reader that yes, it did happen. Because as hagazusa says, it would. They're allowed and encouraged to be very literate and in their teenaged years sent to live at "the Cottages" without much supervision. Later they all are taught to drive, given their own apartments, etc. It doesn't make a lot of sense to not answer that huge, hanging question.
Feb. 24th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think in theory it's possible that there's something going on that the PoV characters aren't aware of (maybe they all had brain surgery to keep them from thinking of this idea; maybe they're being traced*, etc). But that should have been mentioned. Difficult to do with ignorant PoVs, but possible. I don't think it's unreasonable that the vast majority accept the system and do nothing. With the right brain modifications you could easily convince me that all of them accept the system and do nothing, but it shoulda been mentioned one way or the other.

*Given the freedom that they're allowed, I find it almost impossible to believe that this isn't the case. They seem really confident in not losing the clones, which is in and of itself kinda interesting. Like how Hoffman doing public traps in Saw 7 shows how ballsy he's gotten. Which just makes me think that if it wasn't in the story, it really should have been.
Feb. 24th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Towards the end, two of the main characters go to the old headmistress's house for the Big Reveal. It's mentioned in the course of the novel that all the clones are sterile, and they know this, so there's no reason why a brain surgery couldn't have been brought up as well.

I think Ishiguro knew that "why don't any of them escape?" would be an elephant on the table of the story and chose to ignore it anyway. That was annoying.
Feb. 23rd, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
So today in path lab, I learned that it's actually possible to survive indefinitely without a stomach, colon, or 1.5 of your lungs. That's with current technology. Is it time to question the accuracy of this book? ;)
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