If you’ve ever read a science fiction book, this book will bore the pants off you (and not in a good way).
It’s like how The Scarlet Pimpernel was really shocking back in the day because it had a Fabulous Surprise Twist! Because the hero was secretly disguised. As a Jew! GASP. I remember reading that wretched book at age 10 and figuring it out the instant the Jew showed up out of plumb fucking nowhere, and then I finished the whole book because there had to be something else because the book was so famous.
Never Let Me Go is exactly the same. Spoilers below, so you should stop reading unless you’ve read a SF book before or have a 3-digit IQ and will thus figure out the mystery in the first 20 pages anyway.
(SPOILERS START HERE)
They are clones. For 200 pages, we dance around the “mystery” that Kathy and her whiny little classmates are clones created for organ harvesting. Unfortunately, the kids are boring as dirt,* so it’s hard for the reader to see them as more than bags of organs either.
Upon reaching their teens, the kids are inexplicably sent out in groups of a dozen or so to live without adult supervision in the Cottages, and they don’t ever consider running away. If I hadn’t been so entirely disengaged by that point (I was on an airplane and had to choose between this book or SkyMall), I would’ve been Sassy Gay Friend all over this. Ishiguro is trying to show us that clones are people, but these kids lack the things that make humans interesting. In fact, the average dog is more resourceful than these losers, and newborn kittens express more curiosity.
Despite the critical acclaim, this is not a novel of ideas. Questions that could have made this book interesting, but which Ishiguro did not explore:
- The kids are going to be cut to pieces someday, but they go tamely to the slaughter. As adults they even participate as hospice attendants in the medical complex. Is this a metaphor for…something?
- There’s a total of two (2) activists who care about the treatment of clones. Where are the rest? What’s the political climate in England? Is it set in a V for Vendetta version of fascist England? The world-building is blank as fresh-fallen snow.
- What is life for, if life will end in your 20’s, and you’ve been sterilized since birth, and you have no biological family? A properly constructed novel would include some moment of realization that Kathy, Tommy, and whats-her-name did have real lives, and that life was worthwhile even if it was short, and that it had always been up to them to fill their lives with meaning, and that lots of meaning could be created other than by procreating. None of this is articulated.
The only smart bit happens in the first chapter, when Ishiguro introduces the euphemism “completion” for “death,” as in “he knew he was close to completing.” Do not be fooled. That’s the height of the good stuff and it’s a long downhill slog.
*Actually, I have a composting bin and could be considered a dirt farmer. My homegrown, organic dirt is more far interesting than these kids.