Sunday night was the last Whittier Law and Literature Society meeting of the school year. It was a fun year, and I'm so thankful to all my friends who supported me by participating in my little side project - even when all of you were so busy with school and you didn't want to read anything. I really appreciate it, and I had such a good time with all of you. Yes, that's me in the Orange practically blocking our very supportive and enthusiastic faculty adviser, the wonder Professor Patricia Leary. Sorry about that.
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was only two nights ago, and I'm having a difficult time remembering everything we discussed. That is mostly because this was our most successful discussion ever! Not everyone read the book - some watched the movie (that was fun discussing the differences), but all of us had something to say about this story.
I suppose I could start with a little synopsis. Never Let Me Go is the story of Ruth, Tommy and Kathy. The three of them grew up together at a boarding house / school called Hailsham. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that this was no ordinary school, and the children were not ordinary children. They were all clones - specifically bred to be organ donors when they grew up. Their sole purpose in life is to grow up, stay healthy, then go through four rounds of "donation" at which point they've reached their potential.
Considering their genetic makeup, their childhood and their future, the children are surprisingly normal - human even. The intricate and confusing feelings that go along with growing up and discovering oneself are a part of these children's lives - these children are more than robotic clones.
When they leave school, each of them has to spend a certain amount of time as a "Carer" - one who guides, comforts and supports others through their periods of donation. Kathy is the narrator, and has been a carer for 14 years - longer than most. She tells the story of their childhood, adolescence and adulthood - a story of complicated feelings, full of the manipulations and explorations that we have all experienced on the playground and in the hallways.
It is a beautiful, haunting story and one that I won't soon forget. The writing is splendid. Once I've finished a book I like to think about the writing and the word choices. The best writing is that which doesn't grab the reader's attention much. Novels are best when the language not only fails to distract the reader from the story, but subtly enriches the reader's understanding.
After thinking about the writing in this novel, the words do just that - they add so much understanding to the story. Substituting words like "completion" for death, and "donation" for organ harvesting distance the reader from the horrors that are happening. The words are a metaphor for how we distance ourselves from uncomfortable situations whenever possible. A good PR representative must have come up with those words to make the public accept the idea of growing humans simply to harvest their organs. Society does this same thing today with phrases like "collateral damage" that make it ok for the military to take out civilians and innocent bystanders.
The most striking thing about these characters is that they are not angry about their role in life. They have surprisingly few feelings about their fate. They don't question it; they don't try to escape. They just accept. They are resigned to their fate - which is something I will never comprehend. I have always been someone who believes that I have free will and I make my own choices. If there is fate, it's what I make it. I was angrier than the characters. I kept wanting to yell at them to run away! Find a way to be free!
The book isn't all sad, though. They, like any human, just want to be loved. They love each other and they find something even more rare than love: friendship.
There is a lot of nuance in this book, and I could talk about it for days. I wish I could go back to undergrad and write a research paper on it. There are so many themes and so many angles. It's a literary work, with a science fiction plot; a romance with sociological and even economic questions. This is a MUST read for everyone. This story will haunt me for the rest of my life.
As for the Whittier Law and Literature Society, I am happy to report that this is not the end! We've agreed to continue after law school is out. We're taking the summer off to study for the bar exam, but we are planning to meet again in late August to discus C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man. It's been a great year, but I'm looking forward to the future!