A delicate dystopian novel.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
Read from July 13 to 19, 2016.
This novel has been nominated for a few awards and is frequently on lists as one of the books that we should read before we die. Ishiguro has won other awards with some of his other works and is often praised for his simple style of writing on complicated scenarios and his ability to merge literary fiction with a dystopian setting. As of lover of anything to do with reading lists, I was anxious to add this book to pile.
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are students at an exclusive and secluded boarding school in England called Hailsham but not everything is as it appears. The students are told that they are special but are never really told why, but whispers from the teachers and rumours from the students start to unfold the horrifying truth about the real reason these students are attending the school. Kathy recalls how the the three of them grew up in Hailsham and has mixed feelings of fondness as she comes to terms with the fate that the three of them, and all the other students at Hailsham share. As an adult, Ruth and Tommy enter Kathy’s life again and the three of them try to make up for the time that they are quickly losing.
It is difficult to summarize the plot without giving away the novel but Ishiguro slowly builds the plot through Kathy so that as a reader you are not sure what is truly going with these students until halfway through the novel. The twist is nearly that of science fiction and brings up all sorts of moral questions. Ishiguro does have a way of delicately discussing intense matters. However, I do feel that that was the major fault of this novel. This book is simple, too simple in my opinion, for the moral content it is discussing. I felt like I was reading a young adult novel, not an nominated piece of literary fiction.
I wanted more than what Ishiguro offered me. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the novel, but there were aspects of it that I found petty. For example, it wasn’t until the last half of the novel that I came to like the characters in the book. Ruth is not a good friend and I was constantly waiting for the day when Kathy would get some sense and end things with her and as a result I did not like Kathy until later in the novel. Tommy I always sympathized with however. My questions are why didn’t the students run away when they had a chance? Once they were older and knew what was coming, why didn’t they run for it? I can’t imagine that they all managed to accept their fates without question, especially once they had a taste for the real world. Were they too afraid of finding their doubles? Was it part of their re-wired genetics to never question their own purpose? I never got those answers but perhaps that is what makes this novel so haunting.
However, the setting of this book is beautifully done. The tiny details of the how the school functioned, the teachers who had moral issues with the information students were given about their special situation, Kathy dancing and singing with a pillow, and of course once they became carers were what I felt were the pinnacles in this book and were the foundation to the subtle and emotional contexts that the reader connects with. It was these aspects that sat with me long after I finished the novel. So needless to say, Ishiguro still accomplished his job with me as a reader.
This story asks moral questions in regards to medicine and cloning and the moral risks that come in regards to curing illnesses. How do we make moral decisions in medicine on our abilities to play with genetics and creation? How do we make the means worth the ends and does something/someone have to suffer as a result? The ultimate question being, just because we can, does it mean we should? I imagine because of the questions that this book asks that it has become a timeless piece of fiction.
Overall, Ishiguro has made me curious and I am very interested in reading more by him. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi plots without spaceships and for those looking for something outside the standard dystopian.