Saturday, May 18, 2024

Never Let Me Go


31-year-old carer Kathy H is in a reminiscent mood, telling us all about her line of work in the healthcare industry assisting donors and helping them achieve a comfortable resting period in between donations. She also recalls her bestfriends Ruth and Tommy as well as the childhood they have spent together at Hailsham, a special school for children like them. There they were encouraged to live healthily and dabble in the arts, preparing artsy masterpieces that might be selected for Madame’s Gallery. As she drives from one center to another, Kathy H reflects on the experiences of Ruth and Tommy with their respective donations while also trying to remember the time she has spent as their very own carer at different points in their lives. Soon she receives the notice for her first donation, which has been a long time coming considering how long she has already been a carer.

Well this has been a heartbreaking read, even though I can’t fully decide whether such heartbreak is warranted or misplaced. Science fiction set in a dystopian world usually goes all in and explores the ins and outs of the structure before introducing you to a protagonist who will rebel against it. Ishiguro does the exact opposite by providing a vague picture of the whole that is never explored in full detail. Then comes a heroine resigned to her fate and with a myopic viewpoint as your anchor to the narrative. Without much option for elaboration, you are then forced to focus on the human aspect of it all, which is poignant and heart-rending.

This brand of curiosity reigns supreme all throughout the book. Kathy H introduces herself as a carer and your immediate understanding is that this will be a story about the healthcare industry which, technically, it is. It is when seemingly normal words are used with odd connotations that you begin to suspect something fishy, of a bigger storyline that is always hinted upon but never fully discussed until one of the guardians spells it out for you when you reach page 81. From then on, those pangs of suspicion start to benefit from a dash of truth, and then you brace yourself for the implications of such a premise.

One question often asked by readers is why Kathy H and friends did not rebel against the system and just seemed to have settled for the raison d’etre laid out for them. This is when the reader looks inward and realizes that this whole donation and completion thing is simply a metaphor for life; donation signifying life purpose; completion being tantamount to death. In a sense it just feels like beautiful submission, some sort of humble acceptance, without much resistance, to the inevitable conclusion where we are all headed to anyway. It is in this way that Never Let Me Go deals with the existential crisis we grapple with each day.

There are also questions about Ethics. Narratives about cloning are nothing new and have been explored time and again both in cinema and literature, but the focus has always been on the scientific aspect. Perhaps that is the real point of contention here. If we could indeed clone human beings to form a mechanism against various diseases, should they be treated as mere lab experiments or as human beings with souls? From a more legislative standpoint, what legal rights do they have and should they even be considered humans like us? It’s a question akin to opening a can of worms. This novel offers just one of the many possible answers.

And then there is the issue of child rearing where we get contending views from Emily and Lucy in which the former favors a big smokescreen protecting the innocent minds of the children from the ugly truth about their existence leading to a happy childhood but is full of lies while the latter is an advocate of transparency and honesty yet without considering how this would damage the children in spite of the truthful intentions behind it. In the end, it is difficult to choose which of the two paths leads to a lesser evil. Life is often complicated like that, and this novel simply acknowledges it.

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