I once aspired to be a novelist, or thought I did. With hindsight it was obvious I lacked commitment to the cause when instead of sitting my bum on a seat and picking up a pen, or my computer keyboard, or whatever, I decided to embark on a two-year MA in Creative Writing to give me a kick-start. My final ‘dissertation’ was the first 10,000 words of a novel. With the course over, and despite a lot of heel dragging, I managed to limp to the end, producing a short but not entirely uncredible 60,000 words. After procrastinating some more, and following various stages of re-drafting, I sent a synopsis and the opening few chapters to every vaguely relevant publisher in the current Writers’ Yearbook.
The rejections – they were all rejections – were mostly standard, though a few publishers had taken the trouble to tailor their comments. One in particular was snottily dismissive of the ‘dystopian’ subject matter. So if dystopian isn’t your thing, then look away now because Never Let Me Go has it in spades.
Of course you might already know the story because of the 2010 film adaptation starring Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley. It’s a love triangle with a twist. Kathy, Tommy and Ruth have grown up together at Hailsham boarding school. Ruth and Kathy are best friends, Tommy and Kathy are also very close. As they grow into adulthood Tommy and Ruth get together. So far, so ordinary. The twist is that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, along with all their fellow students, have been created as ‘donors’ for organ transplantation.
Never Let Me Go made the Booker Prize shortlist in 2005 with the prize eventually going to John Banville’s The Sea. Ishiguro had already won the Booker six years previously in 1989 with The Remains of Day as well as the Whitbread prize in 1986 with An Artist of the Floating World. (The former, you might know, was also made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson; the latter I’ve reviewed in an earlier post.)
Ishiguro is a brilliant writer with an incredibly varied oeuvre – not for nothing was he awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. But to be ultra-picky, and it‘s my blog so I’ll pick all I want, the central premise of Never Let Me Go hasn’t aged well. We now live in a world where scientists are growing organs and limbs from stem cells, so a ‘race’ of clones as transplant fodder is no longer plausible as a possible future. Our direction of travel has changed.
There’s still the love story, of course, beautifully written and observed, as you’d expect from Ishiguro, and which raises some interesting questions. Is there such a thing as a soul mate? Can two people prove beyond reasonable doubt that they’re genuinely in love?
And yet, and yet…not buying the plot took the edge off its power, and the film proved so memorable I couldn’t quite shake the book free. Is it terrible to admit I enjoyed the film more?
Rating: ** Worth reading