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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Book Tour #17: Never Let Me Go

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about this book. I was in the car, listening to Kazuo Ishiguro speak on NPR as I drove home from work. He warned that he couldn't really speak about the book, and this came on the heels of Philip Roth's The Human Stain, which boasted a similar claim and really disappointed in terms of surprise.

But I have to admit that I was really taken aback by the book once I began reading it. Without revealing the details of the surprise twist, the whole plotline sent me into a state of panic thinking about knowing your death date. It reminded me of that scene in Big Fish where they stare into the eye of the witch and can see how they'll die. And whether you'd really want to go through life knowing when it will end. How it would affect how you live and what you do and, more importantly, what you don't do.

And Ishiguro's book threw all of that on its head.

And then some.

And blew my mind.

I couldn't wait to discuss this with everyone and am waiting eagerly for everyone's post to go up so I can hear their thoughts.

If you haven't read the book and intend to read it, I would stop reading right now because the plotline of the book is discussed below:

If you knew with certainty that you had a child with a shortened life expectancy, would you raise the child any differently? For example, are there certain experiences you'd want to ensure that they had? Are there things that you wouldn't bother to make them do (flossing? eat healthy foods? go to school?) since they wouldn't have the same long-term impact as they would for other children? Would it make a difference in your parenting if you knew exactly at what age the child was expected to die as opposed to a general sense of foreshortened lifespan?

Well this question really bothered me to consider, truly got under my skin and made me feel as uncomfortable as the book made me feel. So it was probably the best place to begin.

I mean, that was the whole point of Hailsham--everyone knew these children were being created merely to harvest their organs and educating them and engaging them in the beautiful side of life made those who would be harvesting their organs feel as if it wasn't a life wasted. It was a life lived--regardless of the abrupt end.

On one hand, I had this moment where I stepped back and asked what any of it was for--what was the point in going to college or working at a career or having children because every single one of us are going to die. The children in Never Let Me Go aren't unique--it's not as if they'll die but we'll all live forever. Every single one of us is moving through this life, reading books, gathering knowledge, creating art...only to die.

Not to be a downer or anything.

I think if I had a child with a terminal illness, I would probably (because who can know until you're in the moment) walk the same fine line I walk today with healthy children of remaining true to life's rules (flossing, one sugar a day, et al) while engaging in as much hedonism as possible. Until the twins started school, our world was pretty much about what we felt like doing. We'd wake up and decide that we felt like doing art projects, or spending the whole day at the park, or driving to a random place just to see what was there. School is definitely cramping our style, but still, I think that we spend a lot of time doing what makes us happy because in the back of my head is the thought that leads this book--that it will all end someday and will we be happy of what we tried while we were here.

And just so you know, I am giving myself a panic attack writing about this.

On page 197, Kazuo Ishiguro writes, "It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that." Have any of your relationships unravelled because of IF and were they relationships that you thought would be strong enough weather the struggles of IF?

There was this movie a few years ago called The Myth of Fingerprints that showed how this family unraveled due to this small incident. How there were cracks in the relationships to begin with that allowed a small incident to change everyone, but regardless, it was sort of amazing to see how something so small could have such a large impact.

With the exception of one friend, I haven't had relationships unravel due to infertility. But I have had relationships unravel--either due to a true cleaving of the relationship or simply due to time/distance. And I am constantly struck at how easy it is to slip into a role with someone you knew when you were younger vs. building a new friendship--regardless of how mismatched you were in the first go-around of the friendship.

There are people I miss a lot--people that I would love to spend time with--regardless of the fact that we didn't get along fantastically when we were face-to-face. Though I'd still choose to care for them if they were completing.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is that the characters seem very passive. Although certain knowledge is withheld from them along the way, and they do have questions, they do not really rebel or protest their fate, or try to escape. They seem quite accepting of the future that has been laid out for them. Why do you think this is so?

I took it to be a combination of things--privileged upbringing which I think removes some of the scrappiness in a person, a resignation that this is just the way things are, and a true support of the system with the belief that what they are doing is noble--an honourable death.

Would you give up your life knowing that you were going to die at some point anyway if you knew that in giving up your life, you were helping another person? I think there is definitely a type of person who would prefer to go out a hero--and we're forgetting as we discuss this that all of us are going to die. It's a matter of when. For the donors, it will be much earlier than most of us. Yes, they could try to escape, but to what end? They will still die in the future--it will simply be more years on earth. And will those years be as filling, as meaningful, in their viewpoint?

Damn, I am freaking myself out again. I can literally feel my chest getting tight.

Jump along to other blogs discussing Never Let Me Go by scrolling up to the post above this one. Join along for our next book: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.


Kristin said...

Very interesting...I had a completely different take on why the characters were so passive about the future.

areyoukiddingme said...

I think the passivity was due to knowing from the start(-ish) that their purpose in life was to donate. To me, it was kinda like someone who was born obnoxiously wealthy having no idea what work ethic is. They know people work, but it has no bearing on their reality.

I found many aspects of this story to be thought-provoking...would it be moral to create sentient beings solely for the purpose of donating organs? My thoughts are no, it wouldn't be moral. But how do I reconcile this with my belief that stem cell research is a good idea? It's difficult, but maybe it has to do with the whole sentient being thing.

If I were a donor...would I want my first donation to go horribly wrong or would I be noble and want to contribute as much as possible? Given the selfishness of people in general, I think I would not want to be noble.

The engineering of designer children...I'm sure this is the wish of fertile people now. I think infertiles (who have hopes/dreams of what their child might look like) are happy enough to overcome infertility. It's a fine line though, between deselecting genes for particular diseases, and tweaking the physical components of the child. As far as the book goes, I wonder why they didn't design the donors with reduced intelligence, so they might be more accepting of their situation.

Interesting book, and interesting commentary on it.

Another Dreamer said...

Interesting take on the passiveness. My view was quite different, but I did not take into account that they were going to die someday... I was just considering the length and quality. I know their lives weren't horrible quality, but they weren't free to live their lives as they saw fit. There was an unspoken cage defining their lives I suppose...

Interesting perspectives.

loribeth said...

I didn't think so much about the "honourable death" aspect of their passivity, but I think you are right.

Yep, this book is likely to induce some panic attacks or depression if you think about it too much. But still, amazing pick, Mel.

Annie said...

It gives me a panic attack too!

I think you explained my thoughts on the question of a child with a shortened lifespan much more eloquently than I did:

"I think if I had a child with a terminal illness, I would probably (because who can know until you're in the moment) walk the same fine line I walk today with healthy children of remaining true to life's rules (flossing, one sugar a day, et al) while engaging in as much hedonism as possible."


Melissa said...

I couldn't even answer the question about the terminally ill child. I didn't want to have to think about it. I'm that type of person..

I liked your view about the passivity. I had not thought of that.

Cassandra said...

I'm sorry that my question gave you a panic attack! Or rather, caused you to give yourself one.