(Sidharth Vardhan’s review of
‘Never let me go’ a novel by
2017 Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguru (1954-)
The novel first published in 2005
Review first written on April 18, 2017
(5 / 5))
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
The comparisons to the movie ‘The Island’ are obvious with themes of ‘allegory of the cave’ and artificial living clones of human beings used as containers for organ harvesting for people. Ishiguro’s book, however, presents a far more terrible picture of humanity. Here the humanity of clones is not a secret kept by some big corporations for the sake of profits unknown to the wider world. Here clones move around among other people and everybody knows they are the reason behind the magic cure. It is the acceptance of this cruelty both among its victims, that is, clones as well as the beneficiaries which make this book brilliant.
There are some efforts on part of social reformers who want to question the inhumanity of the actions – both pure idealists and practical idealists show up in the book raising difficult questions. But the masses, in general, have come to terms with the organized murders of clones:
How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back. However uncomfortable people were about your existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neuron disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter.Kazuo Ishiguru
It sounds too grim a picture of humanity but then it was done well. As quote shows – religion was used, as usual, to excuse cruelty towards those not like you (the clones didn’t have souls and all that). Anyways just take a look at how much of social wrong people are already willing to accept as long as it benefits them or their loved ones – the fate of immigrants for example who are asked to leave to create job opportunities for natives. And after once people had discovered how inconvenient such moral ponderings were, the questions were brushed up under the carpets – newspapers and channels must have moved to more fascinating subjects.
Moreover, it is dressed up really well. The act of switching organs was called ‘donation’ while whenever a clone died the phrase used is ‘he/she completed’. While the second reminds one of the dehumanizing languages of army and police – ‘wasted’, ‘collateral damage’ and so on; the first word offers far more insight. Because you see, it might as well be that clones volunteered their organs, they might even seem to be doing so willingly to a casual observer. There are no protests whatsoever by them throughout the book.
But how come clones accepted such cruel fates without protest? A life where they won’t have any children, or families or career of their choice and all they will have on there cards is a slow death that too probably after suffering from years – organ after organ taken from your body – won’t it be much easier to commit suicide? Or to rebel? There are opportunities enough – the clones are allowed to move about freely, to meet each other, etc. Yet, there are no signs of protests, no one questions the system itself. There is a sort of great anger in Tommy but it is always undirected. Otherwise, all clones look for are opportunities of escape, of deferrals even for a few years, offered by the system but don’t question the system itself.
The lack of a precedent might be a good reason. The reasons presented within the book – are conditioning during early stages of childhood (when you have too much to take in and it doesn’t occur to you to think about things so distant in future) and when you have more fascinating things to think about (first brushing with the act of sex for adolescents). There must be cognitive responses too – Ruth with her habit of imagining things was too willing to believe in the existence of a fantastic solution to want to revolt. Moreover, the immediate worries are so much that it doesn’t leave clones much time to question anything – and that is the reason behind chatty nature of prose and commonplaceness of characters; they are too engrossed in their own lives to think of more cultured questions. Perhaps that is also why it doesn’t occur to them to look for histories of their own creation.
The biggest reason and which forms the key theme of the book though is that they are, so to say, orphaned – having no parents or history (and thus obsession for ‘possibles’) on one end and no way of leaving behind a mark on world (they can’t have children) – Tommy’s obsession with his sketches might be a desperate effort to do that, surrounded by the world that disgusted by their mere presence. To fight you must have something to fight for – and they, to use the cliché phrase, only had each other. The trio accepted the new life in cottages phrase when they had hurt each other – had let go of each other.
And of course, symbolism for those keeping counts because the novel does present a general and gloomy picture, an impressionist’s painting of life in general. Death is guaranteed destiny for us as much as for clones. The idea of deferrals for couples in love by the use of art they created symbolizes (what is perceived as) the love’s and art’s all saving powers (the two things that Sarte considered as answers to an existential crisis for his characters in ‘Nausea’). Tommy’s anger is very much symbolic of existential anger of humanity that feels orphaned in the wider universe while Kath’s imagination shows the hopelessness of looking for things to have faith in. Tommy’s accidentally slapping Kathy, in the beginning, symbolizes how easy it is for us to get carried away in passion and hurt the people we care about in the excitement of the moment – a thing that keeps recurring throughout the novel. The acceptance of their lives despite no obvious factor forcing them to is symbolic of humanity’s acceptance of injustices of the world as given (due to the assumption of property, sexism, racism, so on). Like clones, we too are so drowned with our work and life, that it leaves little time that could be spent with our loved ones (Kathy, one of best ‘carer’ the profession has ever seen fails to complete with Tommy, the one person she actually cares about most). And thus the lack of time for saying things that needed to be said, to fix things that we disturbed, for apologies, gestures of gratitude and clarification of misunderstandings – this lack of time is symbolized in early deaths for clones.
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Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan