Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beautiful Agony

I just completed Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day. This book had so many positive reviews, but I was hesitant to read it because I feared it would be depressing, not at all the light summer reading I aim for in balmy July. However, the library had it, and I certainly don't regret checking it out. It was a sublime story, and it hurt every fiber of my being to read it. Ishiguro's Remains of the Day was focused on the idea of a wasted life, and this book also succeeds beautifully with that same theme.

Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy and are her reminiscences of growing up at Halisham (which on the surface appears to be a boarding school/orphanage) with her closest friends Ruth and Tommy. The three have a relationship that is fractured and fragile, but also deep and strong. Indeed, that seems a complete contradiction, but the conflict is precisely what makes their relationship so familiar and believable. As the story progresses, you learn more about their mysterious life at Halisham and their purpose as students. I won't give that away here, although most other descriptions of the book do so, and finding out beforehand won't spoil the reading.

Kathy's narration is the largest part of what makes this book difficult to put down. It's somewhat stream of consciousness, so you feel like you're sitting in a coffee shop listening to a friend reminisce, one memory spurring her on to the next and then the next. Kathy's language is conversational, and she scrutinizes past events or absent-mindedly refers to memories not yet known to the reader. She provides the reader with explanations and defenses, and in the most emotional moments, Kathy attempts to downplay her grief, which of course makes it that much more poignant--you're hearing this story from a friend, not just a character, and it hurts that she can't just fall apart in front of you instead of retaining her composure.

Hambone told me she felt the book didn't have a traditional ending, with all the bits neatly tied up, and that's certainly true. But it's a tenderly wrought ending, the kind I like, which will stay with me for weeks afterwards as I mull over it. If like me you're hesitant to read Never Let Me Go because you fear it will be too sad, well, that's true, it is sad, but that sadness is essential to its loveliness.


Kevin said...

This line--"it is sad, but that sadness is essential to its loveliness"--has ensured that I will read it. While I know you weren't a big fan, this sentiment is roughly how I thought of The Time Traveler's Wife and, to a much lesser but still noticable extant, Lovely Bones.

Thanks for making it clear what I should read next. I'll probably read it even before Calamity Physics.

hambone said...

It thrills me that you liked Never Let Me Go so much. What you've written is exactly right: the sadness is intrinsic, but it's not a sorrow itself to be afraid of. In fact, hopefully without being too essentialist, it's what I admire about the Asian literature I've read, such as the novellas and stories by Banana Yoshimoto (have we talked about her?): the ability to see the lines of life, love, and grief and depict them in a way that most Westerners can't -- or won't.

It's what I love about the best anime and manga, when they're not just making me laugh.

And have we discussed TTW? I admired the plot but hated the ending so much that it's colored my view of the whole book; I was sure I was the only one who didn't think it was the most amazing story ever. If someone had compared Never Let Me Go to TTW as an inducement to read, I would have stayed away.

Watoosa said...

I've never heard of Banana Yoshimoto. What should I read by her? Sounds like something I'd like if it's similar to NLMG.

Yes, we discussed the wretchedness of the The Time Traveler's Wife ending at some point. I thought execution of the plot was great until the last fourth of the book, and then it all went haywire. The ending was not only poor, it just went on and on and wouldn't end. Ugh.