Originally published in 2005, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is an unnerving tale of friendship and fate that raises questions about the purpose of life and its place in the advancement of biomedical engineering.
Using the ever-controversial subject of cloning, the novel is set in England during the late 1990s and revolves around the character of Kathy and her life as a carer and student at Hailsham.
Never Let Me Go is told in three parts.
The first part details Kathy’s childhood as a student of Hailsham.
The second part discusses her transitional stay in the “cottages” after leaving Hailsham.
The third tells readers of Kathy’s adult life as a carer of 14 years.
Aside from the longevity of Kathy’s career as a carer, this three-stage layout is the model for the lives of all Hailsham students before they retire from their roles as carers and carry out their lives’ original purpose; all of these “students” are to donate their organs.
At this point I feel it’s important to point out that these “students” are not what some would call people.
While their origins remain ambiguous, their lack of parents and inability to reproduce leads some to thinking of them more as shadows than people. However, this itself raises the question: what exactly does it mean to be a person?
The specifics of this donation system are never blatantly discussed, which in itself helps the audience see the characters as their own people rather than mere clones of them.
This individuality itself is brought up over time in the piece, with many characters often affirming that these “students” will have their own thoughts and mannerisms much unlike those of the person from which they are cloned, whom they refer to as their “possibles.”
Although the mystery surrounding the donations themselves allows the reader to distance these characters from their inevitable designs and the idea of cloning, Kathy’s interactions with other students, carers and donors—namely her two closest friends and once-couple Ruth and Tommy—are the sole contributor to Kathy’s testimony as a real person.
Never once through the story did I find myself questioning whether her thoughts or actions were any less valid than those of her “guardians” or other people present within the piece.
Although fictional, the book’s use of hindsight perspective and various other devices is reminiscent of the memoir style.
This angle adds to the story an authenticity that makes the fictional events seem, if not outright possible, eerily comprehendible.
Many of the discourses within the story are preceded or followed by lines of narrative explanation, which adds further dimension to Kathy’s life by presenting these interactions similarly to how a reader would experience a memory.
Additionally, there are few parts in the novel when the characters can be seen questioning their own life paths.
Although many of these are more along the lines of ‘I dream of doing this instead of donating’ rather than ‘I should and will do this instead of donating,’ the presence of these thoughts alone demonstrates the type of introspection these “students” are capable of and their capacity to think forwardly and within the context of their current selves and circumstances.
It also displays their understanding of their own desires and wishes, which further separates them from their status as shadows.
Featuring some unpleasant interactions and sobering realizations, Never Let Me Go analyzes the complexity of the human mind and its ability to understand itself and the world around it.
Through his skills with developing character and creating atmosphere, Ishiguro is able to consider the topic of cloning and its consequences and merits while retaining within this consideration the overarching question: what does it mean to live?
Maxwell Blanchette can be contacted at email@example.com