April 30, 2023


Simple, Sparse and Profound: David Sexton on Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
"What this book is about is ordinary, normal and everyday, the knowledge that we are mortal..." (David Sexton, April 26, 2023, LitHub)

Ostensibly a work of science fiction, Never Let Me Go is really nothing of the kind. Ishiguro says he's perfectly open to people reading it as a chilling warning about biotechnology but feels they've missed the inner heart of the book if they take it that way. He has certainly given readers nothing to foster such a misreadĀ­ing. For the book is set in the past, not the future: "England, late 1990s" it is specified before the novel begins.

The narrator, Kathy H, is thirty-one as the book opens, and has been a "carer" for nearly twelve years. She looks back to her time at a school she remains very proud to have attended, Hailsham, recalling first when she and her friends were children there, and then when they were teenagers, so locating it in the early and later Seventies, perhaps. Then in Part Two, she tells us about their lives afterwards, in "the Cottages" as young adults, perhaps in the early Eighties. But such dating is never precise and there are few contemporary references. There is almost no allusion to technology, beyond humdrum cars, Rovers and Volvos, and old-fashioned cassette tapes and Walkmans.

Almost nothing about the actual biological status of the clones is specified either--neither how they were created, nor how they can make their "donations" and continue for a while to live. Nor are we given any information about changes in society at large. Quite remarkably, there are simply no futuristic, alternative world or science-fiction components to the story. For what this book is about is ordinary, normal and everyday, the knowledge that we are mortal, that our time is limited, death inescapable.

And everything about the way in which it is written, from that absence of technology to the conversational, unremarkable language in which Kathy tells us her story, is calculated to bring it home to us that these are our own lives we are contemplating. In his invariably clear and modest way, Ishiguro describes this radical narrative thus: "The strategy here is that we're looking at a very strange world, at a very strange group of people, and gradually, I wanted people to feel they're not looking at such a strange world, that this is everybody's story."

One caveat: we are all born to die, not to be killed. 

Posted by at April 30, 2023 12:00 AM