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October 18, 2006

Never Let Me Go: JKM 2

For a lazy (anxious?) reader like myself, one of the joys of re-reading a novel (or at least a novel of a certain type) is discovering some layer of meaning below that of the obvious plot. This is the main reason that I wanted to participate in a re-reading of Never Let Me Go. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was so focused on where 'the story' was going that I didn't appreciate the subtleties (like Kathy H's voice); this time around, I have the freedom (now that I know 'the story') of thinking more about what the author really wanted to convey by telling this particular story in this particular way. And given my previous focus on obvious plot, rather than more subtle  presentation, I, too, am not entirely certain where the story will lead. This is, I think, the true brilliance of Ishiguro's novels; his story lines (well, perhaps, but for The Unconsoled) seem to me to be fairly straight-forward, but there is always something lingering below the surface that a casual reader (like me) doesn't discern from the first go-round.

The 'science fiction' aspect of the novel cuts both ways, something I never really thought about until reading your latest post, RJ. That is, it might have put some readers off the novel if they (like me) are not science fiction fans (although I expect I would have read Never Let Me Go anyway because Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors), but on the other hand it might have attracted other readers more interested in the science fiction aspect of the book rather than what I think Ishiguro was trying to convey; perhaps this should be preceded by a 'spoiler alert,' but as I recall from Ishiguro's podcast with the writer from The Guardian (or was it The Independent?), Ishiguro intended the clones and their fate as a device to move things along, rather than the main point of the novel.

In any event, I look forward to your comments on the next chapter.

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October 03, 2006

Never Let Me Go: RJK 2

JMK raises a very interesting point (at the end of JMK 1): were the "book report" critics, the ones who "spilled the benas," more or less likely to characterize Never Let Me Go as science fiction?

Because this discussion is essentially a re-reading, there's no need to keep secret about "what happens." And yet, because I want to watch it happen, to see how it happens, I prefer to write about Never Let Me Go as if I didn't know where it's going. I don't know where my own life is going, either - that's not so much a "lesson" of the book as one of the many things about life of which it's a simple but powerful reminder.

That may explain the popularity of the "science fiction" reading of Never Let Me Go. Science fiction has an escapist function; its contrafactuality allows its fans to imagine freedom from at least a few earthbound restraints. But if the cloning of human beings is "science fiction," the restraints are only multiplied. If you focus on the cloning, and on the purpose behind the cloning, the wormwhole that opens up takes you not on a flight to Vega but to a slog through an impenetrable moral morass.

Of course, we haven't reached the cloning yet. We've just had a handful of oddly-accented words ("privileged estate," "completing").

In my next post, I'll advance to the second chapter, with its introductions of "Exchanges" and "Sales," sinister only because they have to be explained - and are not fully explained at all. What are these paupers, with no personal possessions other than the ones for which they barter with their artwork, doing at the "privileged estate" of Hailsham?

(Link to Portico)

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