Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber and Faber, 2005, 282pp.
This was our book club selection, and it made me think about reading. I had in fact sampled it a while ago, as a P's-side-of-the-bed selection. Its SF premise written as highbrow literature irritated me enormously, pulling me through to the end with mounting disgust. I resolved to read it again more carefully and with an open mind.
The plot is a serviceable one, used before in regular SF, for example in Michael Marshall Smith's Spares. Human clones are grown for their spare parts. In Smith's book (not a great one, Only Forward is much better) the plot supports the usual chases, noir themes, futuristic ideas and violence. SF plots often defy belief, and especially after the end one sees lots of logical inconsistencies, but you usually forgive them if the ride has been good. So it may not be fair to let such flaws as these annoy me: that Ishiguro's clones are as sentient as normal humans, that they are allowed to travel about the country yet seem not to have read any of the debate about themselves, that they survive multiple organ donations (though admittedly what they donate is vague), that they never try to escape their fate.
So what does Ishiguro hang on the plot instead? The highbrow recipe calls for fine prose, characterisation, transcendence, poignancy. I looked for fine prose and did not see any. My friends countered that Ishiguro is intentionally writing in a simplistic style for effect. They also admired the terminology, like "donation" and "completion" (for dying, or worse). I liked the Kathy character who narrates: she is the typical writer-voice that sees all sides. I also liked how she looked for the face of her original in porn magazines. Her relationship with Tommy is, of course, poignant, but contrived. Ruth's aspiration to be a worker in a shiny, go-getting office is ironically memorable. My friends liked the final scene of plastic bags caught in a tree in Norfolk, but I rudely said that plastic bags in trees have been done.
Everyone (in my view, indulgently) found useful allegory in the story, either of our big-business medical system or of the Holocaust or of life itself.
Does Brave New World count as literature vs SF? I still remember scenes from that, though I read it decades ago. Certainly it had a more vivid style.
Tim, who memorably accused me of pissing all over the book, says that Ishiguro will be one of the few authors remembered in 100 years, and I must read An Artist of the Floating World. I am pretty sure I have a copy of it somewhere, from Laurie I think.
Emily wrote: I completely agree with you on this one! In fact, you were a little too charitable considering what we know of his previous writing.