I wasn’t going to recommend this book, but there are a few things that have led me to change my mind and this recommendation will be a bit different that any of my previous ones.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is not like anything I’ve really read before. In a way, it seems like a combination of several books I’ve read but with a little something extra (or omitted). This book was released in 2005 and was later adapted into a 2010 film.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a name that came onto my radar several years ago but I had never read any of his work. I can’t recall exactly how I came across his name. It could have been from others talking about his books or the fact he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, but now that I’m actually trying to recall how his name came to my memory I think it was some association with Neil Gaiman.
However it happened, I knew of him as a respected author and therefore picked up Never Let Me Go from a library book sale simply because I wanted to eventually read some of his work. Ironically enough, I recently finished a book of nonfiction by Margaret Atwood where she actually discussed this very book. I realized I had it on my shelf and it became my next read.
I enjoyed the book because it was well written and it held an underlying mystery throughout that kept you interested in the story. The book technically would fall into a science fiction dystopia category considering the subject matter, but I will get into that a bit later. For now, I will supply a brief summary adapted from the book itself:
As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. It was a place of mysterious rules. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman and Ruth and Tommy have re-entered her life. She begins to look back at their time at Hailsham and comes to understand how they were special.
As I said, the story is written well and there is enough mystery to keep interest, but it can be considered a bit slow story-wise despite being a fairly quick read being just shy of 300 pages. Here is where this book recommendation goes off my regular pattern. After this paragraph, I will include spoilers so if you want to stop here and enjoy the book yourself, please do so and I bid you happy reading. If you have already read the book or don’t care much about spoilers, then feel free to read ahead.
This book is considered science fiction because it involves cloning. It is considered dystopian because it hits a few typical dystopian marks such as the mention of a war and involves a moral and ethical concern. The entire history we get in the book takes place at the very end and gives only a small amount of information to the much larger world that the story inhabits.
The ethical query presented is: Are clones human? Should they be treated as such even when they were created for the sole purpose of dying?
A concerning topic and part of the reason why I did end up recommending this book. Despite believing the story was a bit slow, not entirely uplifting, and the mysteries not being resolved to my personal satisfaction, I think the book presents the concerns well and can be used to bring similar concerns to light.
All the students at Hailsham were clones who will eventually donate their organs to non-clones to save lives, cure cancer, and basically create life better for everyone else. The moral ambiguity centers on the treatment of the clones. The world in the book supposedly advances science at an exponential rate and develops this system of using clones before people can argue the ethical side of such use. Essentially, the public doesn’t really want to have the conversation or even know that the clones exist which leads to the clones being treated poorly. No real details are given but we are led to believe in some cases they are raised like cattle or treated like animals. Hailsham was different because it tried to give the clones some semblance of a life.
I went into the book already knowing about the clone aspect. I somewhat expected a story similar to that of the movie The Island which I greatly enjoyed. But this story is much different. It seeps in and hits you a bit harder. It makes you see these characters as people following along their expected path while being consciously oblivious to the real nature of their purpose.
What stuck with me from this book is the eerie nature of the dystopia. The world simply goes on despite the use and poor treatment of these clones. Everyone tries to keep it hidden away so they don’t have to consider it. The technology apparently would allow the human race to genetically engineer better versions of itself, but they decide not to do so. They don’t want to have children who would be immune to cancer, they would rather have children who may get cancer and then be cured by using the life of a clone. This apathy is what has stayed with me. I hate to say that it remains beyond the book because it is realistic. I’m sad to say that I cannot trust the world as it is today not to make a similar decision. But as always, I can hope that it wouldn’t and keep striving to do what I can to make the world a little bit better.