The Resolution Project Season Two: Never Let Me Go (2005)

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books / the resolution project

Video Accompaniment: Linda Ronstadt, “What’ll I Do?”

The Resolution Project Season Two: For my New Year’s resolution last year (2011), I decided to try and read all one hundred of the novels picked by Time Magazine as the best since their inception in 1923 to the list’s publication in 2005. I got almost halfway through. I’ve decided to bull-headedly push on through and try and finish the challenge, continuing with the same caveat as before: I’ve exempted myself from reading books I’ve already read, leaving eighty-six or so left to go. Some spoilers may lie ahead, so be warned if you’re the type to be bothered by that. It’s not really worth getting that angry about though.

Never Let Me Go cover

“I’m not saying we necessarily went around the whole time at that age worrying about the woods. I for one could go weeks hardly thinking about them, and there were even days when a defiant surge of courage would make me think ‘How could we believe rubbish like that?’ But then all it took would be one little thing — someone retelling one of those stories, a scary passage in a book, even just a chance remark reminding you of the woods — and that would mean another period of being under that shadow.” (p.51)

The Elevator Pitch: In the late 1990s, a woman named Kathy is a “carer”, a person whose job it is to drive all over England and help people out in convalescent homes. When she was young, Kath lived at a special school in the countryside called Hailsham, which I don’t want to tell you too much about right here. Suffice it to say, Kath and her young friends, who we meet over the course of her reminiscings, are very special children who were educated at Hailsham for a very interesting purpose… (Hint: bring a tissue while reading this one)

What I knew about this book, its subject and its author going in: While I was being coy about the big secret that surrounds this book up in the Pitch, I knew about it going in due to the fact that this book had a pretty well-regarded film adaptation two years ago. I think I’m going to try and check it out soon, potentially once I cheer up some. I’d heard of Kazuo Ishigiro before, with regards to The Remains of the Day, but I hadn’t read anything by him before this one.

Thoughts: Hi there. It’s been a while, now hasn’t it? As you will no doubt remember, being rabid fans of The Spoiler Show as you no doubt are, I’ve mentioned once or twice the fact that I’ve changed jobs. I’m not using this to excuse myself from my sacred duty of reading these books (so you don’t have to in many cases), but as a matter of fact I’ve been busier now than in the past. Doing a weekly podcast is potentially one of the factors in this. Sure, I’ve read a bunch of books since finishing The Kindly Ones back in summertime, but I haven’t really thought about the less entertaining ones on the Time 100 list. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things though.

Anyway, Never Let Me Go. This is a pretty excellent read, and one that I wish I hadn’t been spoiled on early on. Yes, I do realize the irony in that statement considering the blurb above this review, as well as the name of my podcast, etc. I do wish, though, that I could have been in on the ground floor seven years ago when this book came out. The real emotional power Ishigiro wields throughout this narrative comes from the amazing, frail, gormless, beautiful innocence of his protagonists. When I first started reading, the fact that Kath’s job allows her to traverse the countryside almost at will, without, say, gene-police or something out of Cloud Atlas hunting her clone ass down was kind of confusing. Why wouldn’t you try to escape the spectacularly shitty hand that “life” has dealt you? This is of course the plot of both The Island and the far superior Parts: The Clonus Horror, which are all basically the same story as this one.

Parts: The Clonus Horror poster

It dawned on me pretty quick though that the Hailsham School is basically one giant pot of classical and operant conditioning, with a dash of isolation. The quote above, about the woods, is a marvelous example of form and theme and plot all rolled into one deliciously depressing burrito. As much as you’d want to empathize with the kids in the book, on a certain level their upbringing is so alien to most that you just have to accept the fatalism and fear that they operate under at all times. I guess the basic premise of the book is sci-fi, but it’s pretty lo-fi and awful to have to care for and raise all of these poor children rather than using bacta tanks or something. It’s heartbreaking. Add to the fact that the Hailsham School has as its sole emphasis development of artistic creativity in its charges, and you basically had a one-way ticket to Sadnesstown for this reviewer.

I’d be interested to know just how Ishigiro researched this novel. The interactions he describes between the children at various stages in their upbringing felt incredibly real to me. The children were not little Cuckoos or anything like that, they got into the same little spats and crushes that I remember from that time. It’s absolutely marvelous, and makes me want to seek out The Remains of the Day.

“None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you.” (p. 81)

Similar books on the Time 100 list: The cynical jerk half of me wants to recommend Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for fans of Never Let Me Go because it’s kind of a funny comparison, but I do honestly feel that the voices of Margaret and Kath have the same ring of authenticity about them. Aspiring grad students could potentially base a thesis on the suffocating feel of the nightmare England present in both Never and The Golden Notebook?

Total pages read since January 1st 2011: 16530 pp. (2071 this year)

Total books on the Time 100 list read: 58/113, or 51% complete.

Next up on the Resolution Project: Money (1984) by Martin Amis. Maybe.

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The Author

Matt Bowes is a self-proclaimed cultural commentator/arbiter of good taste from Edmonton, Alberta. He enjoys movies and books, and writes about them sometimes at thisnerdinglife.com.

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