I’m not sure what it is about donating organs, but this theme keeps following me around!
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, subtly augments contemporary Britain into a dystopic society with a unique population of children who have been specifically created – cloned to be exact – to become organ donors in their adult life. If it weren’t for this fact, Never Let Me Go might be mistaken as a typical story of friendship, love and jealousy set in a boarding school for students with high aptitude for art.
Instead, it is the story of three friends – Kathy, Ruth and Tommy – and what happens when growing up intersects with the growing knowledge of what your purpose in life is. As adults, these three are reconnected when Kathy becomes Ruth’s “carer” – the person who cares for you through your “donations” until your “completion.” The reunion forces the three to come to terms with their time at the boarding school Hailsham where Kathy and Ruth were best friends, but friendship gave way to jealousy as Ruth observed a special closeness between Kathy and her boyfriend, Tommy.
Unlike the characters of The Unit who are sent for donations only after being deemed as lacking value to society, the children of Hailsham have only one destiny. However, they are never really told this – as is read, they are “told but not told.” They are given small bits of information and this, with what they observe or overhear, they use to create in their minds what lays ahead for them in life.
One particularly puzzling activity is that as they are encouraged to produce various types of art and then periodically “Madame” comes and takes the best pieces away for her gallery. The reason for this practice was woven into the rumors that the students create, and only many years later do Kathy and Tommy learn that it had less to do with them individually and more to do with them collectively. As the pair finally have the opportunity to be together as a couple, they confront “Madame” about her gallery and learn that as things seemed very orderly inside of Hailsham, on the outside, the leaders were facing a political battle and the art was used as evidence that the children had souls.
Never Let Me Go really seems to be two books in one. The relationships that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy share are as round and worthy discussion as any trio I’ve met in recent fiction. And then there is this thing of the donations… and “possibles” and “completions” and “deferrals” – all euphemisms for ideas much larger than they seem. Neither story disappoints.
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