This is an odd book for me, in the nicest possible way. It’s not an author I’ve read before, and it might fit into the Oddity Odyssey definition of odd author for that reason. I wanted to read it because, after I saw the trailer for the film, I had it on my (very short) ‘must see’ list for films. Then after I’d seen it I wanted to read the book. Then – it’s listed as located in Norfolk, so it fitted in my Local Heroes Challenge.
I tend not to read books of films, because I find it difficult to put the film out of my mind. That was a problem for me here, because I knew what was going on, and I think it would be much better if you read it without that knowledge, and came to understand it gradually, as Kathy (the narrator) gives you the clues in her memory, just as she herself came to realise what was going on quite gradually.
It’s a very literary book, written in snatches of episodes of memory and discussions with herself, in a way that I found old-fashioned. Indeed I made myself not do that in my writing because I thought it was old-fashioned – yet this was an award-winning and award nominated book. My judgement of my writing is pretty poor. I was convinced this book was written in the 1970s from its style – which is all credit to the author, who published it in 2005. The style is perfect for the time, and for an England not quite like the real one, but very much one that could have existed at that time. Pre-Thatcherism with its development of greed and self-interest, yet with arguably more radical changes including acceptance of cloning with almost fascist results. To me it smacks of some of the threads of the SF I read in the seventies, especially those which had some radical methods of population control (I can never remember whether those were Fred Pohl or someone else).
Anyway, I ramble through this review in much the way Kathy rambles through her memories, trying to create order and sense from them, and remembering the trip to Norfolk not only with nostalgia, but as the secret of where all the things that are lost turn up. It’s an apt metaphor. People rarely arrive in Norfolk by accident. It is a county by-passed by most things, including motorways. Time will tell whether making the A11 into a dual carriageway will change that. I did take issue with the author with some of his descriptions of the place, though.
It’s a terrific book, and a sad one. The premise is no longer new, since one of the films called The Island (the Ewan MacGregor one with Sean Bean in specs, which always means he’s a baddie) deals with the same issues, but concentrates on the thriller aspects rather than the human ones. Read Never Let Me Go and capture a lost England in the shape of speculative fiction, a situation that might have been. In some ways it still might be, but I doubt that we will ever have a Hailsham, the place where Kathy and her friends grew up. The campaigning spirit of the seventies seems to have gone now, and turned into something much more radical.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A book to savour.
I bought the kindle version from Amazon at the end of December, which is probably the quickest turn-round for any book on my to-read list.
If you like this you’ll probably enjoy Skallagrigg by William Horwood. In fact I’m going to have to up my rating to five stars because it’s gnawing at my mind in the same sort of way.