There is something about Kazuo Ishiguro. I do not know any other authors whose prose flows so easily while being so complex. It is very seductive. I knew this from other books he had written, and yet Never Let Me Go
was a book I was hesitant about starting. The descriptions I had heard, the ``story of Kathy H., who works as a carer, and whose back story and memories of the school Hailsham form the main body of the narrative...'' never really caught my attention. I ought to have known Ishiguro would not write something mundane, banal or boring, but that is what it sounded like. And I have a high tolerance for books about ordinary people and their memories. That is my point.
I suspect these less than promising descriptions were due to a terror of spoiling the plot. I think that is a mistake. The story does not depend on one's ability to keep the true status of the residents of Hailsham a secret. I firmly believe most people will figure out what is going on very quickly. What matters, as I see it, is not that Ishiguro uses a common science fiction trope, but what he does with it. He grounds it in a way of narrating which does not accept it as science fiction, and he goes on to set up a very unpleasant scenario which asks the reader to think about how we define being human. Hiding this behind vague suggestions which portray Kathy H. as simply some sort of nurse with a private school upbringing is doing the book a disservice. Especially if it keeps people from reading it.
The point is not what they are, but that the trials and tribulations that are portrayed as their particular problem, as a result of their cruel fate, are in fact only compressed versions of general human concerns (or, possibly, quite the contrary: an indication that there is no such thing as the ``general human'', and that ``our'' problems are deeply personal and unique). What makes Kathy H. (and her schoolfellows) human is not their ability to create, their art, but their particularity as unique individuals with a sense of fate, and a desire to fend of the end in order to purchase time with those they love. At the same time it confronts readers with the question of how far we are willing to go in order to ward off that end. These are not the only questions asked, but they are perhaps at the core of the enterprise.
The narrative focuses on Kathy's particular segment of society. Within it, she belongs to privilege. The surrounding society is only hinted at, but the suggestions are perhaps more effective than the meticulous "world building" which characterises books one might more comfortably designate as "science fiction". The world here is that of an individual, as experienced; it is not an objective reality in which people live.
Ishiguro is always lovely, and his narrators are given the courtesy of an individual voice. That of Kathy H. is a resigned, peaceful one with undercurrents of passion and loss. Sometimes too peaceful and resigned, perhaps. The narrative is structured as a series of memories, told and explained for the benefit of a reader who is not of our society/time, but that of Kathy's. As such, it functions as a vindication of her soul, her individuality. It sets out the price being paid for it. Subtly.
It is a very good book. It should be read.