The cloned children of Hailsham boarding school in an English countryside know they are not the same as children of the rest of the world. Their deeply secretive lives and mysterious guardians do not allow them to ask questions. Instead they are encouraged to paint, draw and write poetry and to be as creative as they can. Their work is stored somewhere in a “gallery” they have not seen.
The children are aware that there is a deep secret that surrounds them as “donors” but cannot really discuss this in detail. They are being reared for a special purpose – to donate organs until they complete. Complete is a euphemistic word for death.
Because they are supposed to be as healthy as possible, the children have a special nurse who checks them up regularly to ensure they do not hurt themselves or harm their very special vital parts before donation. Getting into fights or hurting oneself when playing is detrimental to keeping the body safe for an organ donor so they go about their lives delicately, closely supervised like a microbiology professor studying bacteria in a lab under a microscope.
The guardians thrive on well calculated rumors and fear of the unknown to keep the students in check and to stop them from deviating from their fate. The powerful and frightening image of the woods casts a dark shadow on children who may question the status quo. The woods also symbolize stemming; they cast a dark shadow on Hailsham and are a permanent reminder to the children that they are being bred as organ donors, nothing more, nothing less; that just as stems of plants conduct water, minerals and food to the other parts of the plant or store and produce food – these children are nothing but vessels for a scientific accolade. Those who wander into the woods against the rules meet a most terrifying fate.
“There were all kinds of horrible stories about the woods. Once, not so long ago before we got into Hailsham, a boy had had a big row with his friends and ran off beyond the Hailsham boundaries. His body had been found two days later, up in those woods, tied to a tree with the hands and tree chopped off. Another rumor had it that a girl’s ghost wandered through those trees. She’d been a Hailsham student until one day she’d climbed over a fence just to see what it was like outside. This was a long time before us, when the guardians were much stricter, crueler even, and when she tried to get back in, she wasn’t allowed. She kept hanging around outside the fences, pleading to be let back in, but no one let her. Eventually, she’d gone off somewhere out there, something had happened and she’d died. But her ghost was always wandering about the woods, gazing over Hailsham, pining to be let back in.” (Page 50)
At Hailsham, the teachers advise them to be very careful with whom they have sex. They are aware that they will never have babies. One perplexing question is, do these children have a mind and feelings like every other normal human being?
The book raises serious ethical questions of developing stem cells. The monster that the scientists have created becomes bigger than their wildest imagination, almost uncontainable.
The story is about Ruth, Tommy and Kath, friends for life until donations do them part. The book raises serious ethic concerns on human cloning, although the author uses his poetic licence ingenuously to describe the process.
Ruth, Kath and Tommy are in an intricate relationship and so are some other Cottage mates. Everyone in the Cottages talks about the idea of a deferral. They believe that if they prove their love, the sponsors may allow them to stay together for a while before they are called to donate. When finally, Ruth’s donation doesn’t go right and Tommy is struggling with his too, Ruth hands over Tommy to Kath to explore a deep love they have withheld all these years.
They set off on a difficult mission to find out ‘Madame’ so she can approve their deferral. But does the deferral exist at all? This trip gives us a glimpse into the future of science fiction and is the undercurrent of the book.
The possibility of a deferral with a lover and the destiny of each organ donor is symbolized in the swamp, on their way from visiting Madame’s house where the long-hidden truth of their destiny unfolds.
“I could now see my surrounding much better. I was in a field that sloped down steeply not far in front of me, and I could see lights in some village way below in the valley. The wind here was really powerful and a gust pulled at me so hard, I had to reach for the fence post. The moon wasn’t quite full, but it was bright enough, and I could make out in the mid-distance, near where the field began to fall away, Tommy’s figure, raging, shouting, flinging his fists and kicking out.
I tried to run to him, but the mud sucked my feet down. The mud was impeding him too, because on time, when he kicked out, he slipped and fell out of view into the blackness. But his jumbled swear-words continued uninterrupted, and I was able to reach him just as he was getting to his feet again. I caught a glimpse of his face in the moonlight, caked in mud and distorted with fury, then I reached for his flailing arms and held on tight. He tried to shake me off, but I kept holding on, until he stopped shouting and I felt the fight go out of him. Then I realized he too had his arms around me. And so we stood together like that, at the top of that field, for what seemed like ages, not saying anything, just holding each other, while the wind kept blowing and blowing at us, tugging our clothes, and for a moment, it seemed like we were holding onto each other because that was the only way to stop us being swept into the night,” (page 274)
In powerful, riveting flashbacks, which the writer successfully uses as a style throughout the novel, Kath reflects on her past life at Hailsham with several alumni and other donors. She is now a caregiver and chooses to take care of Ruth and Tommy before her turn comes to donate.
Kath goes through emotional turmoil as she helps her best friend Ruth find her “possible” and has to brace herself as she watches fellow donors die and prepares for the inevitable. She becomes philosophical as she watches one donor after another complete between donations. The fourth donation is treated like Ishaguro’s Nobel prize because very few donors ever get this far. The reward is not money but death. The doctors all welcome you in their white lab coats, nurses dress in their full uniform, all but a façade to welcome you into the final moments to glory land.
When the donors start falling in love like normal human beings, the sponsors get overwhelmed for this was not supposed to happen, this was not a part of the process. Clones are not supposed to read porn literature, reason and sound intelligent, seek their rights or masturbate! But these guinea pigs do exactly that, and much more! The pain of separating the lovers is real, but since they know no parents, have no one but the sponsors who created them and who direct their destiny, they must go with the flow.
Kathy and Tommy go on a truth-seeking mission that opens their eyes to the mysterious puzzle they have been searching all along. The results are earth shattering.
The writer uses the I narrative ingenuously through the voice of an innocent child, drawing us into Kath’s innocent world. The vocabulary in the book grows as the narrator grows older yet still remains limited as Kath learns the purpose for which she was created and philosophically resigning herself to terms with what she really is. At the age of 20 when many young people are still partying, and trying to select colleges and careers for themselves, Kath is already a caregiver and committed to taking care of her fellow donors. She is good at what she does and has built a great reputation for herself.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s book is very depressive and atmospheric and draws heavily from nature. It is a journey of suspense and misery and curiosity will not let one put the book down.
Humor keeps the story alive despite the dreary realities of the situation. Readers cannot help but feel a certain helplessness and anger at the goings on in this clone world.
Ishiguro has authored numerous books including, The Remains of the Day, Nocturnes, When We Were Orphans, The Unconsoled, A Pale View of Hills, The Buried Giant and An Artist of The Floating World. Ishaguro, a Jazz music writer and singer says he was influenced by former Nobel Prize winner singer-song writer Bob Dylan. The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go each sold in excess of 10 million copies each and were adopted into highly acclaimed films. His books have been translated into 40 plus languages.
Never Let Me Go has been reviewed by highly respected newspapers and Magazines among them; Newsweek, The Washington Post Book World, The New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The Sunday Times London, The Villager and the Boston Globe.
The author was born in Nagasaki Japan, in 1954 and moved to Britain at the age of five. He says he was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes as a child. He is the Nobel Prize 2017, Winner.
Reviewed By Omwa Ombara