Studying Prose: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ve realised that there’s an overabundance of book review blogs around, whereas not many young people do much in the way of critically commenting on literature (not exactly the most popular teenage past-time). If you’re like me, the first time round you usually devour the book without deliberating for too long on the writer’s craft. Books, however, are like icebergs, whereas you, as the reader, are like the Titanic. You hit this iceberg, not completely knowing of its capacity to destroy your ship. All you know in a book like Never Let Me Go is that your heart has been expertly broken, a surprising outcome considering the passive narrator that Ishiguro sets up. Yet all this time the words the author chose had meaning and intention; only then could he or she create the final impact on the reader, sink the reader’s figurative ship. Get it? Weird extended metaphor aside, critical reading is important. It’s understanding and exploring why the writer chose particular words, how they affected you. Authors are always setting up these icebergs with their stories: there’s words on the surface, but their meanings and effects reveal and impact so much more. So here is my experience critically reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which I absolutely loved, even shed a tear or two about.
DISCLAIMER: This will make no sense if you haven’t read the book. Read the book (no really, READ IT) and come back here when you’re ready. Also, plagarism WON’T be tolerated.)
Never Let Me Go has a movie adaptation (see above image) – taken from http://beijingbookworm.com
Firstly, what struck me when I finished the book was how repressive Kathy was about her feelings. I can’t recall a moment in the book where she even admits that she loves Tommy, yet it has such a big place in her heart! So that set me thinking about the theme of freedom and repression in the book, and here’s a quotation I thought about critically…
“I thought about Hailsham closing, and how it was like someone coming along with a pair of shears and snipping the balloon strings just where they entwined above the man’s fist. Once that happened, there’d be no real sense in which those balloons belonged with each other any more.”
My thoughts below:
- The man’s fist could represent “invisible authority” (a Big Brother figure, like portrayed by Orwell in the book 1984). This links to the fact we never come face-to face with any authorities that are responsible for the clones program.
- The balloons may represent clones; they are portrayed as objects whereas proper humans control what happens to them.
- This could show how, like inanimate objects, they have almost no say in their lives. They are controlled and repressed, like the balloons, by bigger authorities. Particularly, I found evidence for this in the phrases: “someone coming along with a pair of shears”, “man’s fist”
- However, there’s a motif of ‘holding on’ throughout Never Let Me Go which can represent things which are good or bad. Similarly, the man holding onto the balloons could symbolize a source of comfort. Holding onto something often has connotations of reassurance.
- Like the balloons lose all their worth and purpose once they disappear into the sky, it is subtly implied that Kathy thinks it is a negative thing to lose their sense of belonging now that Hailsham has been closed.
- Although balloons being released into the sky could imply freedom from their overprotected upbringing at Hailsham, it brings the threat of loneliness, isolation, oppression and persecution. Freedom previously had many positive connotations during Kathy’s time at Hailsham and the Cottages, for example they dreamed of “working in an office” or going on a trip. Now that she has experienced what being ‘free from Hailsham’ is like, she clearly prefers her sheltered, albeit controlled, childhood.
Speaking of childhood, that brings in strong links with hopes and dreams which remain till the last moment of the novel. Yes, this is another extended metaphor. Extended metaphors are the best.
As Tommy says before his fourth donation: “I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much.”
The old world of humanity and the new world of cruel scientific advancement is another haunting but strong theme in Never Let Me Go, and it’s brought up particularly by Madame.
- Along this line of thought, I think the fast-flowing river might symbolize the way humanity is frantically driven by their idea of progress, for example by using clones to manufacture organs that can cure otherwise life-threatening diseases for their loved ones.
- Tommy uses an extended metaphor to describe the river, showing how it doesn’t stop as it gushes past these two people (Tommy and Kathy, presumably). This might be an allegory about how most people who aren’t clones in this alternate England are ruthless. They’re only out to get what they want and don’t care who is destroyed in the process; if you stretch this a bit further, you could say this shows greed.
- The phrase “River somewhere” creates an image of being deserted from the shore. This could entail having no hope, clinging onto whatever they have left (like they do throughout the book)
- Love, I would say, is something that’s very closely linked to hope. And guess what, another Titanic reference! I found the scene that Tommy describes a lot like the scene in the Titanic when Rose lets go of Jack – similarly Tommy and Kathy let go physically, but their love lives on.
Kathy and repression in her memories
Kathy seems like a person who accepts her place in society dutifully. She talks almost like a carer to us in the beginning, mentioning ‘I don’t know what it was like where you were.” I think she was then narrating events that happened at Hailsham in a more utopian way, like she wanted to comfort an invisible donor with the memories. But as the novel progresses, Kathy’s true emotions leak through, even when she wants to remember Hailsham and everything that ensued in connection to it in a fascinating light. For example, she says:
“I have to admit I’ll welcome the chance to rest—to stop and think and remember. I’m sure it’s at least partly to do with that, to do with preparing for the change of pace, that I’ve been getting this urge to order all these old memories.”
- ‘Order’ suggests that she wants to pick out the memories she likes, or that interest her. So as readers, we are missing a lot of facts about how they were told about donations for example, how humane the atmosphere was, other hints about Hailsham behind the scenes
- “I’ll have to admit” sounds confessional, reinforcing the idea that Kathy is constantly repressing her emotions about her life and only now will she take the time to “let it all out”.
- Memories are important to her as this is what’s going to keep her going through the donations. She doesn’t want them to fade, as she says, so she might purposefully narrate the story in an exaggerated way that she likes (hence the mixing up of the order of events) so it sticks with her.
- Or an unreliable narrator could simply throw us off our confidence, the same way Miss Emily and Madame were unsure what clones could actually experience. In the same way as ‘proper humans’ in the alternate England, we have to decide whether we sympathize with these clones even if we don’t fully understand them.
Whew! That was a lot to take in. You’re clearly committed to exploring a writer’s craft if you’ve made it this far. Although critical reading has to be personal to you, and you may come up with interpretations of these same quotes that are different from mine, that’s the whole fun of critical reading! I hope this helped inspire your analysis.
Keep reading and read-joicing,