Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review, No. 5

Never Let Me Go is as evocative as it is tiring. It follows three children (Kathy, Ruth and Tom) as they grow up in Hailsham, a place where their lives are already planned out for them, where they each have a destiny they cannot escape. The story follows the narration of a reflective Kathy, who is remembering her life growing up in a not-so-normal environment, raised for a not-so-normal purpose. The concept is familiar, yet Kazuo Ishiguro enthuses it with originality through his breathy presentation. The plot line is subtle, with rising and falling action secondary to the characters. Memory after memory is shared with intense back-and-forth; foreshadowing and flashbacks are intermingled so perfectly, and you suddenly find yourself lost in Kathy's life, following her steps, progressing with her, feeling the same helpless, unavoidable destiny pressing down around you.

There is no easy way to describe Never Let Me Go. It's a journey more than a story, a too-short life retold in a too-content voice. It takes place in an alternate reality, in the rolling hills and clouded skies of the English countryside. Though Ishiguro rarely takes the time to describe the environment in detail, or even directly, you still get the sense of standing under stilted sunlight, staring over dying fields in a wet winter. That feeling transcends the language, the telling of a normal novel. Never Let Me Go becomes more a picture than a story.

You never know how to feel. You look to Kathy to tell you, but she passes no judgment as narrator. She is merely relaying a few friends' lives, writing up her own story. There is no telling one what to think, no real conclusions on what she thinks, and no sentence placed on what their lives have meant. No pretty bow is tied on at the end; we stand with her, complacent and content, and it is not till we put it down that we realize, no, we should not be so passive. And there's the power in his novel: it won't leave you alone. True to the title's subtle plea, you can never let it go. The burden of the lives within the novel are now yours to carry; the quiet contemplation--a mere sharing of memories, harmless enough alone--suddenly gives way to a rage. Finishing is unsettling. Kathy had become too real--she transcended fiction, she seemed alive. She had a soul (such a provocative thought, considering what the novel is).

Ruth is a perfect antagonist, though she can sometimes seem only two-dimensional. Tom doesn't seem like such a big deal, and then you suddenly make room in your heart for him near the end. And the finish is unsettling, but it's meant to be. Truly, Ishiguro is an astounding storyteller: all the intricacies fit, as if you've been studying a painting by starting at the corner and then stepping back slowly, each chapter revealing something new until, at the very end, you see the masterpiece and realize you've been seeing it all along. This is no fairy-tale, but a confession you feel almost guilty for stumbling across. Ishiguro has written a book so real, when it "completes," you're haunted.

There are some random, unsettling dialogues about sex. Still, it is never crude or graphic. There are also lulls in the beginning, before you can see what it all means, why it all matters. And, I admit, I got tired at first of not being told what was going on; you come to realize you're expected to feel it.

I can't say I really enjoyed reading it but, once I finished, I couldn't stop thinking about it. So, 4/5.

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