Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Catholic Book Review: Never Let Me Go...(Part I)

This is a strange dystopian novel set in England in the 1990's. It is written by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born, Briton and a Booker Prize laureate.

The plot of Never Let Me Go seems simple enough. There is remote English boarding school called Hailsham where the teachers are called 'guardians'. The main protagonist, a girl named Kathy flashes through her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood with her closest friends- Ruth and Tommy...They are normal kids with the usual growing up problems; friendship, love, heartbreak, betrayal; on the whole they live an idealistic life.

But as you plough through the book you realise that there are strange things afloat at Hailsham. There is no clue about the student's parents or how they ended up in that boarding school. There is an undue emphasis on how 'special' they are though you don't know why, and how important their creativity is. Then there is the specter of 'Madame', a woman who comes every now and then to Hailsham and selects their best pieces of art, crafts and poetry for her 'gallery'.

The story unwinds slowly like you are looking through a microscope at a solitary ant in a grass and as you widen your vision you gradually realise you are in the middle of an ant-hill invasion. Things start to hit you bit by bit as you realise the children are 'clones' and are reared for the sole purpose of becoming 'organ donor' much like our poultry mills. The children are told without explicitly telling and they know without quite 'knowing' that they are expected to give donations till they 'complete'. A nice way of saying killed. 

Every instance of their individuality is crushed and stamped out. They are bred to be infertile. Their dreams of getting jobs is futile because they realise that their only aspiration is to become a 'carer'. Another nice term for someone who looks after a 'donor' in between donations.

They are viewed as sub-human, soul-less, freaks of science by the rest of the populace...and by this time, you feel trapped and hollowed out. You are already attached to the characters as they grow up as normal kids but suddenly when you are faced with their progeny and cattle-like status, you find yourself unable to take their sudden dehumanization. 

When the end comes, it is poignant yet not surprising. Ruth, Kathy and Tommy hear a rumour that Hailsham students who are truly in 'love' and can prove it, can get a 'deferment' on their donations which means 2-3 years of life before they are called in to begin their donation. Before Ruth...um...completes, she convinces Kathy and Tommy to get together and try for a deferment. The meeting is decisive. 'Madame' and their old headmistress explain to them that there never was or ever will be a 'deferment'.  Hailsham was an experiment to prove to the world that clones have a soul and deserved a dignity of life as any other human being. How? Through their art. Their art was to reveal their innermost selves and give a glimpse into their souls. 

They failed in their endeavour. Because though it was disturbing, people found it hard to give up their easy access to miracle cures. It was easier to ignore or assure oneself that human clones were less than human and therefore fit only to have their organs harvested and plugged out.