Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attack of the Clones

Just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never let Me Go last night, and I guess I'm still forming an opinion, but it's definitely a novel that stays with you and makes you think.

I'd shied away from the novel because of the sappy title. I thought it was a cheesy love story, and imagined it was set against the backdrop of war or an oppressive culture. I got more interested when I found it out it was about clones.

For all of that, the book is very subtle. It's so subtle that it's actually hard to follow at first. Like any subculture, the clones have their own lingo, and when our narrator, Kathy, speaks of being a 'carer' and watching over people after 'donations', and how many of her donors have 'completed', it's a bit hard to follow at first. The book is a trip backwards into Kathy's childhood memories, and someone ultimately spells it out for her and her classmates: they are human clones, brought into the world to donate their organs. They'll be 'carers' at first for other clones, and then they themselves will give their organs until they no longer can. Most clones go through four surgeries, some 'complete' early if the surgery goes poorly, and they hint darkly at the fact that occasionally, a clone will go on for more surgeries as a sort of vegetable.

Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy were raised in an idyllic boarding-school atmosphere. They attended classes, they made tons and tons of artwork, they played sports like any other kids. Throughout the course of the book, she traces their relationship growing up, the instances where they first became dimly aware of their fate, and their attempts to fight it.

What I had trouble understanding throughout the book is why no one just ran. I came to think that it was simply because it was what they were raised to do. They may not like it, just as many American adults don't really like working a 9 to 5 job, but they do it because it's what they're supposed to do.

It's a very thought-provoking book. Some of the thoughts that come may be sort of uncomfortable. During the passages describing what they learned in school, I wondered what the point of it all was, when they were just going to die before 35 anyway. But then again, how many people is that true of in real life, anyway? I have several classmates from high school that are dead now. Think of all the people every day that die in stupid, senseless ways, and all the effort that was expended to educate them, train them and mold them into decent people. Never Let Me Go fulfills the promise of literature in a very literal way, then: to explain what it means to be human.