I’ve mentioned before that my review method leans heavily on the critical aspects of things, mainly because I just tend to have much more to say about the stuff I don’t like compared to relatively brief views on the stuff I do, which I realise is about as balanced as a seesaw with a walrus on it but whoever said I had to be balanced? I’ve previously called this method of critique ‘praise by exception’, basically if I think a book, game or movie is good I’ll just say so whereas if I think it sucks I will have a long speech about why it sucks locked and ready to fire at people because I generally stand by the idea that the only wrong opinion is the one you can’t justify. If being bad was a terminal illness then consider my reviews like an autopsy, pulling out its guts out to be weighed and measured so I can accurately doctor House the thing, whereas if it’s good I’ll pretty much leave it intact.
With that in mind, Never Let Me Go gets to keep all its innards inward as it’s good, petty damn good actually, which is why this intro is more heavily padded than an American football player on their period.
Much like A Scanner Darkly I’d already seen the movie version of this novel before picking it up for book club and it was a movie I really liked. The film is one of the few pieces of media that nearly drew tears from my hardened cybernetic eyes and for those of you playing at home other members of that exclusive club include Y: The Last Man, Red Dead Redemption, MASH: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, The Lion King and maybe the end of Terminator 2. So while I knew what was coming I was still keen to see how it played out in the novels greater detail and if it too could make my eyes wetter than a whale at orgasm.
Plot wise Never Let Me Go follows three lifelong friends who were specifically born to be spare parts for other people, clones who embody the old adage ‘life is just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh’. We follow the three, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy from childhood all the way to their donations as adults, all told through Kathy’s perspective from growing up in an English boarding school to life beyond and caring for others as they make their donations. Basically it’s the same principal set up as The Island only with a heavy dose English sensibility and not being shit. There’s a line from a Pink Floyd song that came to mind while reading this, as Pink Floyd lyrics tend to do: ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’ and by gum is that ever true here. Here the clones don’t rise up or rebel or even really question or fight their lot in life, just sort of accept it as the hand they were dealt, which might be a tough pill for some to swallow, the notion that those built for harvest would just go along with it, but its presented as such a norm for these kids it’s kind of hard not to see it in the same way everyone accepts some kind of inevitability in their own lives simply because it is, like income tax or having to live under the law of a political leader with the intelligence and personality of a boiled cauliflower.
As I said before, it’s all pretty good, the writings good, the characters, dialogue, prose, over arching narrative, character arcs, sentimental references to the title, all good gooey goody good. A standout piece of good is how the book encapsulates the sense of how school friendships and social standing work in adolescence. As Kathy grows up describing her close but often dualistic friendship with Ruth and Tommythere’s a genuine feel of authenticity, like it could be the life of any teenage girl, and yes I would know because I was one briefly in the 70’s.
If I have one complaint it’s that the novel often has Kathy reference a part of the story she hasn’t explained yet, using it as a sort of cliff-hanger. It’s sort of like talking to that one guy at work who’ll end a conversation with something irritatingly leading, like ‘but that was nothing compared to what happen on new years even in Chinatown.’ Leaving a gaping hole in his exposition, casually whistling while waiting for you to bite and ask what exactly he means by that just so he appears interesting. You don’t need to be coy book, I’ve already bought you and intend to finish no matter what so you can stop making flirty eyes at me to get me to keep reading.
But ultimately I can’t get too mad at that, it is the way people talk after all, unravelling a complex relationship means occasionally crossing threads and as I’ve said repeatedly, Never Let Me Go is good, well constructed, painfully human hitting you right in the feels especially on its last few pages. Even though I already knew how it ended, drawing emotion from a robot is a lot like getting blood from a stone, even if that stone is now thinking about the end of Y: The Last Man and pretending there’s something in its eye.
Written by B.T. ‘I know now why you cry’ Calloway