Sunday, April 1, 2007

Never Let Me Go

I read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go recently, and loved it, but when I recommended it to friends I generally found that people didn't like it as much as I did. They complained that it was boring -- okay, I could see that: its pace is patient and quiet -- or that the "big secret" of the novel was obvious. I'm not going to supply any spoilers, here, but the slow and inevitable realization about what that secret is was one of the great pleasures of that book for me. I don't think it's supposed to be a surprise. The way the reader grows accustomed to the strangeness of the secret mimics the way the characters in the book's alternate reality must also have grown used to it.

But I also liked Ishiguro's fastidious building of his world -- the peculiar ordinariness of it. The only other Ishiguro I've read is The Remains of the Day, which I read maybe fifteen years ago, out loud, on a road trip. All that sticks with me from that reading is the voice of the butler and its sense of restrained emotion, both of which are echoed in Never Let Me Go. JRL suggested I also read The Unconsoled, but I couldn't get past the dream-like elevator scene that that book opens with, and When We Were Orphans, which I put down about half-way through and haven't picked up again.

Ishiguro does something really weird in his books -- at first I thought it was just a tic of Never Let Me Go's narrator, Kathy H., but he does it in When We Were Orphans, too, which is one of the reasons I stopped reading it: at the end of sections or chapters he'll give a broad and deliberately suspenseful hint about what's to come. For example, from NLMG:
And if these incidents now seem full of significance and all of a piece, it's probably because I'm looking at them in the light of what came later -- particularly what happened that day at the pavilion while we were sheltering from the downpour.

And then after the white space he goes on to describe what did happen that day at the pavilion. It wouldn't be a problem if he did it once or twice or even three times, or even if he did it compulsively in one book -- but when I found that this stylistic quirk crossed into other books (and it's in The Remains of the Day, too, though I didn't notice it when I read it) I found it extremely annoying. Is Ishiguro afraid people will quit reading if they're not promised some tempting nugget in the next section? Does he even know he's doing it? It feels like a device he learned to get himself from one plot point to the next, but it's something he ought to be able to put away at this time in his career. How many Booker nominations does he have?

3 comments:

McQ said...

How did you know that I was just about to give it a second try due to how much you liked it? I'm determined to make it all the way through this time, too, annoying end-of-chapter hooks or not...

jrlennon said...

Aren't you supposed to be reading Proust?!!?

Amy Palko said...

I read this for a gothic reading group, and I have to say that it wasn't my favourite. I think that the style is very clever though, and I did find Kathy's voice extremely evocative. However, a number of people in the group confessed to being close to tears at the conclusion, but I, who frequently get emotional whilst reading, felt nothing at all. I just couldn't connect with Kathy, but then maybe that's the aim. Maybe we're not supposed to connect...