Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Never Let Me Go Discussion

I promised I would do a discussion on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. Since that first post, I've unearthed two more renditions of the cover:

I can't decide which of the 5 covers (these two and the three I posted previously) I like best. What do you think?

One thing about this book that immediately pulls you in is Kathy H. as the narrator and the way she distinctly "talks" to the reader, even going as far as to clarify her points or emphasize particular themes in a story she's told to ensure "we've" got it right. Kathy H. offers a more complete picture than many narratives as she seems determined to observe the world a step outside. Ironically, this sometimes means we learn more about others than we do about Kathy H.

Meanwhile, there are so many truths about the world beyond the Hailsham boarding school walls that the students (while growing up) know nothing about. They're completely sheltered. As readers, we know something is askew, that this isn't a normal boarding school. It's evident in the treatment of the students, in the sharp emphasis on health, and the lack of visitors (including parents) and access to anything beyond the walls. There is also a sense of complete obedience. Rarely do students question anything they're taught or the rules to which they must abide. And when they do--or Kathy H. does--it's carefully kept inside or whispered at secure meeting places around the school to ensure they're not detected or overheard.

Kathy H. also offers the unique perspective of age. What I mean is, often in books when a character is aging, we're right alongside them in the process. In this particular novel, however, Kathy H. is reflecting back on her time at Hailsham and with her friends Tommy and Ruth. This means that some of her memories are limited to what she could understand at that age and others have eroded with time.

Ishiguro is able to describe Hailsham with such detail that I can envision the playing field where Tommy has his tantrum, the classrooms the students do their creative art work, and the pond where Kathy H. and Tommy meet for a private discussion. The grounds seem so expansive that I imagine Ishiguro had to literally draw an entire campus to keep straight where everything is. For the reader, this allows us to really immerse ourselves in this world because we can so vividly imagine it.

This world, however, is marketed to the students as a kind of utopia. They're constantly reminded of how special they are and what an elite school Hailsham is but what they don't know is their true purpose for being there. That they are really in a dystopian state, repressed from doing as they pleased with their bodies--and their lives.

While reading Never Let Me Go, I couldn't help but think of Alduous Huxley's Brave New World. The staff at Hailsham act as a kind of government and certainly they've embraced a new, clinical way of creating people. Both are set in London (though Never Let Me Go was essentially present day rather than futuristic.) The characters find that there are constraints to the level of individuality they're allowed--or encouraged--to exude and there's the realization that their relationships cannot exist as they wish unless they move outside the confines of this "society."

While there are suggestions from some of the "guardians" who watch the students that they should know more about what's going on, about their purpose, the students don't push it (sometimes out of fear, other times out of complacency). The result is a shell-shock realization that their future has been decided for them.

If you read the book, what characteristics first struck you as unique or hinted at the true purpose of our characters and of Hailsham? Did you think Kathy H. reflecting on particular memories rather than experiencing those moments as they happened helped move the book along or limited our perspective of the other workings at Hailsham?

I'd love to hear from everyone regarding whether you've read (or watched) any dystopias that marketed themselves as utopias? And how do the main characters break free (if at all) from the confines of this society?

1 comment:

  1. It's a pity their was no way of these 3 people to escape from this parallel world. In our galactic universe Earth, our society in the 31st century does not destroy non terran people. Our 31st century technology enables us to teleport people from one parallel universe to another. The Inter Galactic Federation Alliance court of justice located on Alpha Centauri Prime is in the process of drafting laws prohibiting societies in other parallel universes from terminating lives.