I picked up Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in the library simply because it was a nice handbag-friendly size for my commute, but if (like me) you’ve lost track of Ishiguro’s work since An Artist Of The Floating World or The Remains Of The Day, this one’s worth a read.
NLMG reminded me how wonderful Ishiguro is at illuminating the silences between people, the myriad things that may come to your mind during a conversation but which, for all sorts of reasons, you decide to leave unsaid. I don’t think I noticed this in his other books that I’ve read, but in NLMG he’s particularly adept at bringing this to life in the interactions between women, or at least it’s very true to my interactions with women anyway. I think he really skewers the things that can render even conversations between fairly close, caring and not particularly immature girl friends a mire of unvoiced resentments. Kathy is able to be annoyed with Ruth’s various facades and disingenuities, while understanding (and sometimes appreciating) why Ruth puts on the acts she does. Ruth is able to engage in genuine and close friendship with Kathy while she continues, through knowing inaction, to deny Kathy a precious and irreplaceable happiness. Tommy, the third major character in the book, is also quite accurately characterised (as far as my interactions with guys go, anyway) as being more straightforward, less calculative, not completely oblivious to all that’s going on between his two close girl friends but simply not wired to view things through the convoluted web of surface-vs-imputed-meanings that girl interactions have to be filtered through.
Do you know what I mean, or does none of this strike a chord with you? I mean the insecurities and disingenuities of your girl friends which chronically and acutely infuriate you, yet because you figure that they wouldn’t be like this if they weren’t fragile, you decide to be the bigger person and not crush them by letting on that you see right through them. But because you’re not perfect yourself, you can’t totally let go of your annoyance either, and it ends up colouring your interactions with them anyway, anything from throwaway comments which indirectly target an insecurity, to deliberate obtuseness when they’re fishing for affirmation, to finally just limiting the quantity/method of your interactions. (I have girl friends who I like in person, but I don’t like how they come across on their blogs, or vice versa, and other girl friends who are lovely alone but put on facades in certain social settings, so I sometimes try to pick how and where I interact with them accordingly.) Perhaps the dispassionate observer might wonder why you don’t just cut off these dysfunctional relationships, but there’s the rub – underneath all this bullshit you still like these people, you know they have good hearts, and you want to believe others will ultimately give you, too, the dignity of the holistic analysis, rather than write you off for your own annoying faults. And so we hold on to these relationships, and everything left unsaid represents the good and bad we can’t let go of.
That was a bit of a tangent, wasn’t it? Anyway, the point is that the major strength of Never Let Me Go, for me, is how consummately Ishiguro gets all of the above. Another of its strengths is how elegantly he unfolds the story, but it’s a little tough to discuss this without introducing spoilers. If you pick this book up cold as I did without knowing much about it, I daresay you will be a little surprised initially at the opening chapter’s hints about the central premise of its plot, and you might even be dubious about whether it’s your sort of story – I was. But I soon found that this didn’t matter, and (with apologies for being so cryptic, really) the third major strength of the book is how he uses the first strength to illustrate how little it matters.