Friday, August 13, 2010

It's almost time for me to let go

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is one of those books that I've "always meant to get around to." Knowing that the cinematic release is imminent is what finally moved it to the top of my towering TBR pile. I'm delighted to have finally read the novel, and I definitely enjoyed it, but I can't help feeling just a bit let down. I've been hearing raves for years, and my expectations were pretty high.

I don't even know what to say about a book that has already garnered hundreds of reviews. It's got a plot that supposedly has a big reveal, so I want to be careful what I write, but that was also part of the problem for me. What was supposedly the big secret was obvious to me from the beginning, either because I've unconsciously picked up chatter over the years, or, um, it was just obvious.

Anyway, it's a story told in reflection by Kathy, our 31-year-old first-person narrator. She's reflecting on the events of her life, thus far. The first lengthy section of the novel details her upbringing at an unusual British boarding school. There she formed the relationships that were pivotal in her later life, most notably with her best friends, Ruth and Tommy. She continues relating the events of her life after her schooling, and the continually evolving relationships she had with her friends as she slowly learns more about the world they're living in.

That was sufficiently vague. The story is interesting, disturbing, and very, very thought-provoking. There were a few problems I had, but I want to emphasize that despite minor complaints, I thought there was real brilliance to this book. My biggest problem was that every single scene, some of them very emotional, was related by Kathy. And her recounting, in hindsight, was always somewhat flat and removed. An example, "...for a while things were okay between us. Maybe, looking back, there was an atmosphere of something being held back, but it's possible I'm only thinking that now because of what happened next." It was literally a case of being told, not shown. Instead of being directly in a scene, we get everything through the prism of Kathy's eyes. It wasn't that she wasn't a sympathetic character, but somehow I had trouble channeling her emotional connection to the events of her life. I sort of got sick of her deadpan voice, and the constant foreshadowing got a bit old, too.

And my other complaint is related. Mr. Ishiguro is renowned for his beautiful prose. I have no doubt his reputation is justified, and I look forward to exploring more of his work in the near future. However, he so skillfully and consistently narrates in Kathy's voice, that all poetry is lost. That simply isn't who she is, and she tells her story in a straightforward and utilitarian manner.

It's the haunting nature of her story (to us, if not to her) that is so powerfully effecting. I had a friend tell me that he loved the novel up until the ending, but then felt it was a let-down. My feeling was the opposite. Had it gone any other way, I might have been disappointed. There was so much in this book to digest, I'm not sure that I've taken it all in yet. I'll look forward to the film to spark further discussion, contemplation, and debate.

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