July 1, 2013

Never Let Me Go

Find Never Let Me Go on Goodreads
Genres: Fantasy, Romance

(finished March 31st)
I found the beginning really hard to get through. If I had picked up this book on my own, I would have dropped it and never finished it. But since I want to read every book we pick for the book club, I forced my way through. In the end though, it was a pretty good and thought provoking book.

As for the "beauty in this book," I liked how everything unfolded, and you didn't find out everything until the very end. I love stories like that, but I didn't like the way it was written. It had too slow of a start. It also wasn't written in a way that made me very interested. Looking back now, I like the plot, but it wasn't very captivating to the reader.

From the beginning, the school the children attended was rather suspicious. The teachers are called guardians rather than teachers or professors, none of the children have parents but they’re not at an orphanage, and none of them will be able to have children of their own when they become adults. When I discovered that last piece of information, I thought, “Whoa, wait now. How do they know this? Did they do something to these children to make them sterile?”

Then there’s the whole economics of it. Where does the money come from, but more importantly, why are they able to get money? If it’s not a boarding school, and not an orphanage, then what is it? Why would people donate money to a place that is neither. You vaguely hear about people contributing, but it’s far off and never touched on. Later, when I discovered the purpose of the place, I thought that maybe there are some people that contribute that benefit from the purpose of the school, but the amount of money that I’d imagine they would receive doesn’t seem like enough to be able to run the school. So is there some other source the reader doesn’t know about, or was this just an oversight when writing the book?

There seemed to be a lot of brainwashing going on in this book. The children were always told what their future had in store for them like not being able to have children or jobs, but they were told this information at a time when they were too young to fully understand what this would mean. They knew what the words meant, but they were too young to realize how this could affect their future lives. They were also told things in convoluted language. For example, they were told that when they left the school, they would be giving donations and acting as carers until they gave their own donations until completion. Even stating it that way is more direct than anything presented in the book. By the time they found out what all this meant, they’d been told it so often that it was just another part of their life. Another memory. Worn to death and of no importance.

I would have thought there would have been some rebels. More so than what Ruth showed, but there wasn't any mention of them. And even if they were so sequestered, there would have to be someone who would do it. What are the odds that there wouldn't be? Also, the guardians in the end mentioned that there were "students" living in worse conditions. If so, did they have the ability to act as carers? Did they have the knowledge, the maturity? Everyone was too obedient. It was like a Utopia of people donating organs or something. No one rebelled, escaped (only past stories/legends, but did anyone really try?), or committed suicide. It was too ideal.

I remember how Kathy said that those who went in for their forth donations were greatly welcomed and greeted with smiling faces. I couldn't help thinking how sick those doctors must be. Do they only take 4 organs? All that money and time in cloning and raising these people only to take 4 organs in the end? As much as I don't like the idea of them doing something like this at all, it really bothers me that they have to go through all that and so much is wasted.

Chapter 23, Page 276: Tommy and Kathy are discussing about after the fourth donation... "How many, after the fourth donation, even if you've technically completed, you're still conscious in some sort of way; how then you find there are more donations, plenty of them, on the other side of that line; how there are no more recovery centers, no carers, no friends; how there's nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off."

In my animal ethics class, there was the question if animals have a soul or conscience. It's hard to know when they can't speak to you. In the case of the clones, they can speak to you, but they weren't "miraculously" created or conceived, they were created. Things that don't have a conscience or are manmade are typically viewed as less important as humans. But if these clones are treated as less than human because they are man-made, then what about IVF?

I also noticed that no one ever seemed to be sick. They had weekly medical check-ups and all, but I would have thought someone would have gotten a cold or the flu or something. Is disease prevention advanced so far to the point that people don’t get sick anymore? No one even seemed to have allergies, but then if they were choosing people to clone, I guess they wouldn’t clone people that have allergies.

One of the most interesting characters in this book I think was Monica. I thought she seemed disgusted by the clones. I also thought she was taking their art and selling it for a profit. It seemed like she was treating them kind of like slaves. Good enough to profit from; not good enough to be around. It wasn't until later in the story that I had the idea that she might be collecting their art to show that they're human too.

This is probably one of the most thought provoking books that I’ve read in a long while. It inspired a lot of interesting discussion points during my book club’s discussion. Though not really a fun read as indicated by my rating, it was a very interesting read and worth reading.

Book Club Discussion Questions:

1. Did you like or dislike this novel? What were your most and/or least favorite things about it?
I didn't really dislike it, but I didn't like it either hence the 3 star rating. I liked the wild story line. I hadn't read anything about the book before starting, so I had no inclination about what was going to happen. As I was reading, I knew something was off. The kids where in a boarding type school, but they had no parents, and it wasn't an orphanage. The fact that they couldn't have kids really threw me, but since I'm watching Beauty and the Beast right now and "Beast" is a result of a science experiment, I thought it would be something like that. I wasn't expecting organ farming though.

As for what I didn't like...it's hard to put my finger on it. There was just something about the way it was written that kind of put me off. There was also way too much talk about sex for my liking. Did they do something in the cloning that made them super horny?

2. What character resonated most for you and why?
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth each had parts in the story that resonated with me.

Kathy: The scene where she was dancing with her "baby". I personally don't want to have my own children. I'd rather adopt, but I've been around too many women that have tried over and over to have kids to not sympathize. Luckily everyone I've know was finally able to conceive.

Tommy: Poor Tommy just seemed to be jerked around a lot. First everyone picked on him for not being artistic. I've very artistic, but my siblings aren't, but I dare anyone to tell them otherwise. Then Ruth was with him then not then she claimed him just as I though him and Kathy had a chance. I was ready to slap the girl.

Ruth: Ruth was my least favorite character. I wanted to just slap her for half the book. But I can understand her behavior. Knowing that your future is planned out for you when all you want is to be free and choose what you want would be devastating. And then she dies a weak small person having made no lasting impact on the world.

3. Kathy's narration is the key to the novel's disquieting effect. First person narration establishes a kind of intimacy between narrator and reader. What is it like having direct access to Kathy's mind and feelings?
For this novel, the first person actually put me off from the book. I've read plenty of fiction books written in first person that I like, but there was just something about this book being written like it was a biography that made me disconnect with the story. Looking back at my notes, that was actually my first complaint about the book.

4. What are some of Ruth's most striking character traits? How might her social behavior, at Hailsham and later at the Cottages, be explained? Why does she seek her "possible" so earnestly [pp. 159-67]?
Ruth is very out there and "colorful". She always has to be the center of attention and be involved with everything. Reminds me of the stereotypical preppy cheerleaders.

Ruth wants to be accepted. At the same time, she wants a "normal" life like the rest of the people out in the world. She wants to make a difference. Her search for her "possible" is like a search for herself. If she finds her "possible", she can imagine that that person is actually her and that her life is making a difference. Kathy pointing out that their "possibles" might actually be trash people devastates her and dashes all hope.

5. Critic Frank Kermode has noted that "Ishiguro is fundamentally a tragic novelist; there is always a disaster, remote but urgent, imagined but real, at the heart of his stories" [London Review of Books, April 21, 2005]. How would you describe the tragedy at the heart of Never Let Me Go?
It's a tragedy that these people were not able to live their lives. Being at the school allowed them to live their lives more than other clones that we hear about in the story, but it's just a change of venue. A gilded cage.

I said in my review that this book reminds me both of the animal industry and the Holocaust. In the case of the animal industry, these people are put in the shadows where no one has to see them though these same people benefit from them. It's like buying chicken from the supermarket only to be outraged that your neighbor butchers chickens. In the case of the Holocaust, these people are placed in "camps" or schools and are treated less than human. They have no rights to choose their future, have no real freedom, and ultimately are put to death.

6. There is a sense of sadness in this book because the characters know that they are going to die. But all of us know that we are going to die too. What's the difference?
We don't know when we are going to die (usually); we don't know how we're going to die (typically); and we have the choice to live as we would like.

7. Many people struggle (or at least go through a period in their life in which they struggle) with the question: What's the purpose to life? The characters in this book don't need to, because they are given a purpose -- to be organ farms for others. There is very specific purpose to their life. Why is it that we feel sad without a purpose and yet feel sad for them who have a very clear and stated purpose?
I don't think we're necessarily sad without a purpose. It would be nice to make and impact on the world and leave a piece of ourselves behind. We have the opportunity to choose how we want to do that. They don't. It's sad because they don't have free will.

8. The teacher Lucy Wainright wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. Miss Emily believed that in hiding the truth, "..." [p. 268]. In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument? Who do you agree with more? Why?
For these children, I think it was inevitable what was going to happen. Whether they knew about it or not, they were going to have to donate their organs. In such a case, I think giving the children their childhoods is very important. They obviously aren't going to have a happy adult life so give them a happy childhood.

I don't however think that the truth should be kept from them. They should be fed information on a drip. I don't like how they hid things behind complicated or alternate terms. I also don't like how they told them what was going to happen but didn't make them understand what was going to happen. Like Kathy said, they were told things just young enough to know what they were saying meant but weren't old enough to understand the meaning behind the words.

9. Did the book end the way you expected? or did you expect Tommy and Kathy to get a deferral? or escape?
I couldn't really tell where the story was going to even guess at an ending. I think I thought it would end with them all dead. They were too obedient for me to think they would escape and talk of a deferral was just too good to be true. If the scientists thought they weren't human enough to be worried about taking their body parts, I doubt they would have believed the clones would be able to understand what the emotion love was.

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