This novel has been on my “To Read” shelf for a long time. I remember buying it awhile ago and finding the premise interesting. It was only until later that I discovered it was one of those ‘literary masterpieces’ that everyone says that you should read. Even though it seems cliche, I personally do think that most, if not all, people should read this great novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The novel is told through Kathy who remembers her childhood growing up at a private school named Hailsham with her two friends Ruth and Tommy. The novel is set in a ‘futuristic’ time where people are conceived with the sole purpose of ‘donating’ their organs once they come of age. This understanding isn’t really explained at first; the reader has to keep reading in order to fully understand why these students are in this separate school, and why their health is such a concern to the staff. Similar to the mysterious tone, Kathy begins the story by describing her job as a carer and it isn’t til much later that the reader can put two and two together to understand that she takes care of people once they have donated and are recovering.
This novel deals with a lot of big ideas: the fragility of life, what it means to be ‘human’, and what it means to love and be loved. At a young age, the children at Hailsham are told by a rogue teacher the purpose of their lives: to donate their organs for other people. Although it doesn’t necessarily affect them at the time, it eventually sinks in that they don’t mean anything to anyone except for the purposes of science. Of course, this crushes the very essence of being human and also takes away their autonomy because they have no choice in the matter.
Kathy and Tommy have a rapport at an early age; however, Ruth doesn’t want to be left out and be alone so she and Tommy start dating. This of course creates a strain on each of their relationships with each other, even when Tommy and Ruth split and the three don’t see each other for a long time. Once Tommy and Kathy get together years and years later, they want to get a deferral from the headmaster at their old school Hailsham so that they can be together and not have to live this life that is destined for them. The headmaster tells them that such a thing doesn’t exist and they have no choice but to continue the lives they’re in. Even though people say that love conquers all, they really have no idea.
An important aspect of music returns throughout the novel; Kathy gets a cassette of Judy Bridgewater’s “Never Let Me Go” and she plays it in secret to herself, except once when the headmaster listened from the doorway, sobbing. What’s interesting is that Ruth didn’t want to be alone so she got together with Tommy but in turn, that made Kathy alone. Her only consolidation was from the cassette that reminded her that love exists and to never let it go. We later learn that the headmaster got emotional because Kathy listening to that cassette reminded her what she was doing to these children. Kathy listening to music made her more ‘human’ in a way. Ishiguro involves another important message: the power and control of music.
All in all, this was a very powerful and amazing book. I recommend it to anyone who loves a novel that elicits deep thoughts and feelings. Don’t let the futuristic elements persuade you to NOT read it; although it is heavily centered around those beliefs, it is not futuristic in the sense of spaceships and aliens (or is it? :O)
Til my next post, nerds!