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“My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.” So begins Kazuo Ishiguro’s intriguing novel. Kathy has reached a turning point and is looking back over her life. She is a calm narrator, focusing especially on her idyllic childhood at Hailsham School: her classmates, the teachers they called ‘guardians’, the playing fields and art classes, the simple routine of their days mingled with playground dramas, all in a serene landscape of duck ponds, spooky woods and paths through the rhubarb patch.
Reasonably soon, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that Hailsham is an extraordinary place and these children are not ordinary children. As they grow up they are ‘told and not told’. Similarly the reader begins, bit by bit, to understand what sort of world Kathy is part of and the position she has accepted in it.
Like another of his novels, Remains of the Day, Ishiguro’s style in Never Let Me Go isn’t bold or sensual. It’s more like rich whitework embroidery. With generosity and understanding Kathy recalls conversations, glances and gestures in exquisite detail. Her story runs freely backwards and forwards through the years as she follows the threads that have bound her most closely to her childhood companions, Ruth and Tom. It is a thoughtful book and Ishiguro has Kathy ruminate lovingly and perceptively on life, memory and loss.
Our group was more or less evenly divided. The novel is undeniably sad and quite a few found Kathy’s narrow sometimes childlike viewpoint frustrating or boring. Her thoughts and emotions are not strong or complex, but those that liked the book found them deep and true, even refreshing and illuminating, which may be why some have called this Ishiguro’s greatest novel.
Much discussion was sparked by the slightly alternate world Ishiguro envisioned. Is a place like Hailsham plausible? Never Let Me Go seems to illustrate our need to continually appraise the rights and responsibilities of the privileged and underprivileged if we are to protect the weak and preserve the better angels of our nature.
On Thursday, 5th January the group will read A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.
Withiel Book Circle – reading list
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