Never Let Me Go


**Warning – here be spoilers!**

I read Never Let Me Go last week, sadly in preparation for the film. I really prefer to have read the book before I know anything about a film as it makes it impossible to picture anyone else in the roles you know about. With this, I actually don’t know which one Carey Mulligan is, although it’s pretty obvious who Andrew Garfield plays.

So, to go back to the beginning – Never Let Me Go is the sixth novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, UEA Creative Writing alumni, which makes him East Anglian, as far as we’re concerned. It has been translated to the big screen and stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield as three friends who all attend/ed the same Kent-ish boarding school. From the trailer, it looks like a triangular romance involving Merchant Ivory standards of longing looks and pertinent sighs next to the window. Except. If you watch it again, there’s something off about it, something not quite right. The tone is slightly menacing and definitely mysterious.


Kathy is the narrator throughout the novel, and you learn fairly early on that her friends Tommy and Ruth are no longer around. The whole tone is nostalgic as Kathy recalls the events in their lives that led to the actions and situations that happened. This is all told without a lot of emotion as the language Kathy uses is oddly flat. As the story unfolds there are certain trigger words that Ishiguro, through Kathy, uses. These include ‘carer’, ‘complete’ and ‘donor’. Their reason for being alive is only spelled out once in the book, by a teacher they call guardians – they are clones, bred purely as living organs to be donated when real people need them. They way this incident is told in the novel indicates that Kathy doesn’t really like to think about the reality – something she alludes to a number of times before and after. We as the readers are able to piece together what happens – I won’t tell you everything but the donations are grotesque. Most donors are expected to make up to nine donations before ‘completing’. Kathy talks later about how completing is not dying – you’re treated as if you are dead but you ‘re still aware of the world around you, kept alive by machines and unable to communicate.

The reveal of the sci-fi element of the story is done beautifully, and would have been shocking if Glamour hadn’t have spoiled it in their three line review (thanks very much, Glamour). I find it really interesting that the trailer is deliberately misleading, so that if you weren’t watching you would think it was almost a period drama about heaving bosoms and marriages when in reality it encourages readers/viewers to ask existential questions around the ethics of growing people as skin-bags or the existence of souls.

The narration itself lends itself to the overall idea of whether Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are human or not. While re-living highly emotional incidents in her life, there’s no real sense of how Kathy felt while this was happening. It’s very factual, and the focus point becomes what she’s not saying –the absences. Tommy and Kathy clearly love each other but it is only talked about when they are adults and Ruth is dying from her first donation. Even then, even when they finally get together she is curiously detached, apart from the odd comment. It could be argued that there are some people who do that anyway – removing yourself from the scene stops old wounds being re-opened. This raises the question of – is Kathy’s narration cold because she is alone and afraid to venture into that territory again, or is it because she’s not a ‘real’ person?

Ishiguro is very good at portraying characters with stiff upper lips on the outside, but with a river of feelings just under the surface. Remains of the Day, his 1989 novel which was adapted into a Merchant Ivory film, examines the relationship between a butler and housekeeper, employed in a large house. Comparisons can be drawn between the two novels, as Tommy and Kathy are kept apart by environment and even their own friends. Some may find this to be flat or difficult to get involved with on a deeper level, but as I mentioned before, it’s not what the narrator says that’s important but more what he or she does not say.

If there was one thing to criticise, it would be that there are too many peripheral characters within the story. There are dozens of boys and girls at Hailsham, the boarding school as well as at the half-way house they move to when they graduate. This makes it difficult to place people or link them to incidents in Kathy’s school life when she encounters them later. On the other hand, they are normally referred to in context and it also makes for satisfying re-reads as more layers of the story is revealed.

I’m looking forward to re-reading this, even though I only finished it a couple of days ago. It’s a book that has left me thinking about this not too distant future alternate reality. I’m also looking forward to seeing the film, largely because I like the leads but also because a lot of it was filmed in Norfolk, where they journey to in the novel. Ishiguro has clearly experienced the pull that East Anglia has on all those who live here.


The future of reading


Well, I am a lucky girl. Among the many, many other Christmas presents I received, Santa brought me a kindle!

There is nothing better than reading a book – the smell, the feel, the beautiful illustrations some of them come with, but I wanted a kindle after I realised it can hold around 3,500 books in the weight of a very slim paperback. No longer will I struggle on holidays with tonnes of books, some of which may not be as fun as promised by the front cover or the blurb on the back.

Don’t get me wrong – it is strange reading a book on the kindle. I keep looking for the other half of the book, which is testament to how good the text looks on it. It does look just like a page of a book. It’s also easier than a book as you don’t need to use both hands to keep it open, and the previous/next page buttons are on both sides. This means that basically, you only need a finger to read a book. Perhaps a thumb.  It’s the lazy person’s way of reading, and if it makes it easier then who am I to argue?

Amazon’s information on the kindle includes some stuff about wanting the kindle to fade away and for the reader to forget that he or she is reading a book on a kindle at all. They have definitely achieved this, but I would like to see it slightly prettier. I know, I’m being very girly, but I like my gadgets (and my books) to be a bit sparklier than matt black. I suppose in theory I could customise it myself. This leads me on to my next point.

As tough as it is is, it still has a big screen which is liable to get scratched after being carted around for a little while. A quick google on kindle covers revealed that….they are all pretty expensive and again, not very pretty. There were some that were cute, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy something that’ll cost a fifth of the price of the kindle itself.

So I made me a cover instead. It’s very basic – made out of black felt with sparkly bits on, blanket stitched together and with a toggle sewn on to keep it closed.

I know, get me. I blame the Hobby Craft that’s just opened. Incidentally, that leads me to my new year’s resolution – to use the sewing machine my mother bought me a while ago, sans manual. I really will get on eBay and see if I can buy a manual, or even get one from the manufacturer. I also need to spend a bit of time trying to thread the thing – tried to do it ages ago, but got frustrated and gave up.

The digital ink on a kindle looks amazing, just like a real book. Well, nearly like a real book. It looks so real that I’ve found myself trying to touch the screen like you would an iPhone. The battery life is also astounding – it claims to last for a month without constant 3G and/or wireless connection, although as I haven’t had it for a month I can’t confirm or deny this. Nevertheless, it makes the kindle even more convenient – download your books at home using your own wireless internet connection, then read to your heart’s content for a month without worrying about battery or chargers.

Besides  how pretty it is/isn’t, I’ve had it for a good three weeks now and haven’t paid for a book, despite downloading a number from the kindle store. This is great for kindle owners but potentially disastrous for kindles – why pay for a book when you can get the classics for free, which will take months to wade through and keep you occupied until the good books are available? There are two points in this – the first is that the books are almost off-puttingly expensive and the second is that the available books aren’t the ones I want to read on the kindle.

You can get an e-book for around the same price as a real life, tangible copy. This is partly down to the youth of the technology (the profit margins are smaller as fewer people are buying) and the realisation that e-books are taxed, unlike print books.

The books that I’m willing to pay a fiver or more for are, sadly, the ones I’ve read already and know I’ve enjoyed. This includes “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy and the Garth Nix Abhorsen series. None of them are available yet on kindle.

This basically means that I won’t shell out for books until they either come down in price or better ones become available, and this won’t happen until people shell out for books – the profit increases and publishers can see the audience available. A conundrum indeed, although I’m sure this will sort itself out in the next year or so.

The technical specifications and the functionality behind the kindle far extends what I’ve described in this review, but it’s meant to be a preliminary explanation based on user experience.

The kindle will not replace books, but will enable owners to carry their library around with them for the weight of a novella. In the future, there might be colour screen kindles that can support complicated textbooks and graphic novels, or the software to scan a copy book directly onto the kindle itself, like we do with CDs already. eBooks might come as standard when you buy the hard copy – for 50p extra, you get a code which gives you the digital version. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it unfold, and going on holiday without packing ten books and still reading Catherine Cookson in desperation…