Meyer described her novel, The Host, as science fiction for those who “don’t like science fiction”. Yet The Host is child’s play in comparison to Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a truly masterful amalgam of science-fiction and ‘high brow’ literature. This was the first book in a while that had me completely enthralled. Every spare moment I had over the last two days was sacrificed for this book, and when occupied otherwise, my thoughts would be fixed on Hailsham and its odd inhabitants.
Tuesday morning, I think. I had just begun to familiarise myself with the prose of Gaskell, when a package arrived from San Fransisco. It was actually very exciting to receive a book in the mail, because I’m hardly ever given books. Instead, I’m perpetually reminded by those around me that I have a 1.3m high to-read pile in my study, and I would do better to squander my money on trivial things such as a new ipod, when I have a perfectly fine – six month old – nano already. Apple and their tricksy marketing schemes.
But I digress. I tore the package open, and I was perplexed – baffled and utterly bemused – by the cover. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe a book should be judged by its cover. That’s why I’ve juxtaposed the two images above. I’d done some ‘research’ beforehand, and found the image on the right. Although it looks sinister now, prior to reading, it merely looked sombre. I thought what I was receiving in the mail was another ordinary portrait of the human condition. I was completely unprepared for the eerie wide-eyed child, or the unapologetically bold black title (just as I was unprepared for talk of cloning and organ donations). And suddenly, despite being immensely curious, I was also rather apprehensive about reading the book. Not because I didn’t like the cover, but because I have a fear of all things remotely gothic / macabre / psychological-thriller. A few years ago, I watched The Sixth Sense, and had nightmares for almost ten months. And I couldn’t walk down the hallways of my school without glancing at the ceilings first. Even the kitchen – no, especially the kitchen – wasn’t safe (all those knives). I haven’t watched a scary movie since.
In the end, I was lured by curiosity, a positive review by Margaret Atwood, and the prospect of reading more Enid Blyton-esque boarding school fiction. I eventually grew to appreciate the cover on the left because it portrayed the themes and tone of Ishiguro’s tale more accurately than the other one.
I wasn’t all that impressed by the stylistic elements of the novel, to be honest. His style, in fact, seemed lacklustre; nothing out of the ordinary. But there was something about the intertwined nature of the protagonist’s memories that exuded a feeling of unsettling verisimilitude. Under his pared down simplistic prose, there was an eloquent complexity that captured my attention. It really did feel as though I was driving down a solitary country road with Kathy, listening to her stories and conversing with her. It really did feel as though I was delving deep into her mind, and picking apart the tangle of memories that defined her childhood. Oh, and of course, it was refreshing to read plain old English after ploughing through the superflous flourishes of Show Pony Salman.
One thing that really unsettled me was that Never Let Me Go takes place in the picturesque countryside, among poplar trees and sunlit fields. I’ve always associated science-fiction with cityscapes, and I suppose that’s why this particular literary hybrid is considered so clever. There’s this one place I like to visit in the summer, and while it’s only a forty minute drive away from the city, there are horses and persimmon orchards and Victorian cottages – I don’t think I’ll ever go back there without thinking of Hailsham and the organ donors.
What I’m trying to say is that Never Let Me Go is unsettling precisely because the world that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth live in is so eerily similar to our own. Ishiguro examines the direction of a society that is headed towards cloning and unprecedented technological advancements, and we are that society.
Thanks again to the very generous Matthew, of A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, who sent me this book. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Ishiguro.