(The, um, situation that Kathy and her friends are in is slowly and smartly revealed throughout the book. The reader is a bit in the dark, just as Kathy was herself. I had no idea what this book was about before I read it, and I truly enjoyed going in blind. It’s several years old, so I expect most of you know what makes Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth different. But if you don’t know and don’t want to be spoiled, go read it and then come back and read this post because I talk about it up front right away.)
Just be yourself.
Such simple, honest advice. It’s easier said than done, but being honest with yourself and true to who you are is one cliche we all should want to follow.
But for Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go, being herself also meant being another person. Because Kathy, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ghostly beautiful novel, was a clone made for the sole purpose of growing organs to donate to people who needed them.
Kathy was created to give body parts to humans.
Let’s try that again: Kathy, a young girl in love, was forced to have operations until she died so that other people–people who she never met, who were deciding her life–could live instead of her.
The worst horror in this book wasn’t about clones. It was about how people could treat other people as less than human. As a separate species, like a lab rat. That slow despair creeps in like poison fog* until you can’t feel anything else. And when it existed, hope–hope for a different destiny, hope to find out where you came from, hope your life means anything at all–was almost as cruel.
Our story starts when we meet a grown-up Kathy reminiscing about her time at a boarding school, Hailsham. She tells stories of her friends, Ruth and Tommy, that could be anyone’s stories while they are away at school.
But something is a little off. No one ever mentions parents or siblings. No one seems to have a last name. No one has any money, and no one ever seems to leave school grounds.
But the kids there are like any other kids. They fight and gossip and play. Ishiguro does an incredible job getting into the minds of young girls. I recognized myself and my friends–and sometimes people I didn’t like. He captured the insecurity of growing up, and what it’s like to fight with a close friend. Kathy can see Ruth’s hope, fears, and passive aggression as well or better than her own. And when they get older, they grow and learn, and try to fit in just as we do.
Except I imagine it’s much harder to feel comfortable with yourself when you have no family and no history. I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to help ground you, and I couldn’t. To have no idea where you came from or why. No one to care where you end up. And not even the knowledge that you were born because two people somewhere out there came together–if only one time, to make you.
So it’s no surprise, really, that the students at Hailsham became obsessed with finding their “originals.” This story is full of jargon to make it easier to swallow the horrors of this life: “donations” were operations to give organs, “completion” was dying from these procedures, “donors” were the people undergoing operations. But searching for your “original,” the person you were created from, is the scariest one of all. Can you imagine not being the original you?
Favorite character: Kathy, I think. Tommy was sweet but broke my heart so much I can’t think of him without cringing.
Subtly saddest line: “It would have made a nice spot in the summer for an ordinary family to sit and eat a picnic.”
Would I recommend it: Yes! Go read it right now and let’s talk about it.
Movie?: Yes! And I watched it right after I finished the book. It was also quite good, and I just really like Carey Mulligan.
New obsession: I guess I’m into clone stories now. I read this, immediately watched the movie, and I just started watching Orphan Black on TV, which also has to do with clones. Except they call them “genetic identicals,” which I like. Are clones the new vampires? You decide. (No, probably not.)
*I saw Catching Fire last week. It was good!
(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But I am a part of the Amazon affiliate’s program, so if you buy through my links I’ll make a little bit of money off of it.)