This book didn't do it for me.
I figured out most of the twists pretty quickly (probably by exposure to dystopian themes in lit and movies throughout my lifetime). To be fair, this book was published in 2005, and it was in the early 2000s that Never Let Me Go's
subject matter became topical. Large pieces of this plot were also similar to the 2005 Michael Bay movie, The Island
. I could call this collective unconscious, but it's more likely that both Bay and Ishiguro were influenced by Phillip K. Dick.
Ah, I think I've put my finger on it: I am not a huge fan of Phillip K. Dick. This book reminded me strongly of 1984 (in that it had a similarly haunted tone) and for the revelation scene in the end of the book. Miss Emily is set up as a parallel to the government agent in 1984, stripping the main characters of their delusions while also removing their last hopes. However, it also was uncannily reminiscent to Phillip K. Dick's science fiction, with which I am passingly familiar. I don't like the bleak, hopeless tone and the unresolved, relentlessly miserable endings. Usually, Dick's protagonists learn the secret/meaning/function of their societies, understand their purpose in it all, and then nothing happens. Perhaps it's my American consumer showing, but I hate having my expectations disappointed. I worked my way through this bleak text, dammit: can't you throw me a bone and give me a chance at a happy ending?
I might have been spectacularly impressed with this book if I had read it in high school. I went through my dissatisfying lit phase then, enjoying tomes such as The Stranger and Hamlet. But I might not have liked it, either, because I didn't like my senior year dystopian fiction: 1984 and Brave New World. I was spoiled, you see.
When I was fifteen, I read Fahrenheit 451. I still hold it up as my ultimate example of science fiction. Not just because of my obsessive love of books, but because of how they functioned as a symbol in Fahrenheit
. By destroying books, the society destroyed knowledge, beauty, and context for previous events. Even though the ending wasn't necessarily happy, I was left feeling as though it could get better. Never Let Me Go
left me with no such illusions.
Essentially, this book is a coming of age tale in an alternative 1980s England. It is looking back on Hailsham, the school at which the narrator and her friends were raised, their bizarre day to day fixations, and their preparation for their future as "donors." It isn't until halfway through the story that "donors" are explained, or "carers," and the school's purpose remains a partial mystery until the end. It is very strange, housing a child's coming of age tale in a speculative dystopia.
This book didn't go far enough to be social commentary, and it left me with one, resounding question: why didn't these kids just run away? I know, I know, social constructs and whatever but seriously, you can't tell me someone didn't try it. Someone had to have tried to run away at some point, even if they thought their future was set in stone. These kids were told their entire lives that they were going to be carved up as some other person's organ donation, and not one of them thought to book it? Including the ones who were in love with one another? I don't buy it.
The narrator's tone is resigned. The whole book, I wanted to shake her, to snap her out of it and make her do something. She infuriated me with her passive acceptance of her world, and I kept hoping that something would happen to make her take a stand. That moment never comes, disappointing my sense of literary righteousness.
If a book makes me unhappy, I don't like it.
This was well-written, though, so it gets two stars for quality, none for enjoyment beyond a sick fascination and wish to avoid my boyfriend and his brother's sibling bonding involving zombie video games, which always give me nightmares.