Never Let Me Go: a review in tweets
Finally got round to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘Never Let Me go’. A run down of my thoughts on the film in reverse chronological order, as posted on Twitter.
Not yet… Curious to see what a decent cast could do with those characters RT @gtpodcast Have you seen the movie version? Good stuff.
Perhaps sadly, the main characters’ warmth stems from their ache and deep-rooted trauma #neverletmego
Text is secondary to context, which itself is secondary to subtext #neverletmego
For Ishiguro, relationships are s battlefield of human interaction, subtly painted, but emotionally exhausting #neverletmego
Plot takes a deserved back seat to the careful revelation of character, which makes the story all the more engaging #neverletmego
He has the gift of creating infinities out of fleeting moments. It’s special. #neverletmego
Moments of real intensity arrive unexpectedly, then are pored over with the focus of a vivisection #neverletmego
Ishiguro’s is a painful detailing of life crammed into too small a vessel #neverletmego
Ishiguro never asks us to pity his characters, but he does insist that we live through their most challenging moments #neverletmego
In his novels Ishiguro never lets us forget that human relationships are capital C complicated #neverletmego
Ishiguro is a master in quiet devastation and unafraid to deliver trauma #neverletmego
Part character study, part sci-fi thriller. A completely compelling thought experiment #neverletmego
One of my 13s that read Never Let Me Go: She kept shaking her head, repeating it’s a “bad book, bad book”. Almost weird.
What I forgot to say:
As I tweeted somewhere up there, it’s difficult to say exactly what this novel is, form-wise. After the first chapter or so I was all geared up for a careful character study of the narrator a la ‘Remains of the Day’, which, to be honest, the novel delivers. But it soon diverts into more sensational territory as little hooks of plot get thrown in there and the science-fiction premise becomes apparent. Then philosophical ideas are introduced and the whole thing begins to feel like a thought experiment. First off, thank god Ishiguro is an accomplished enough writer to avoid falling prey to plot while all this is happening. He manages to continue the careful analysis of character whilst developing a thriller of a plot, without having the whole thing become clumsy. This is less a novel concerned with what happens than with how people cope with what happens, reminiscent in tone to Pale View of the Hills (Ishiguro’s first offering).
Stark, plain, unfettered, direct. He writes with minimal poetry but high impact, detailing all the silences in communication where powerful experiences reside. At uni I remember one of my tutors making a lot of the fact that Ishiguro is Japanese, but writes in a very ‘English’ register. Whatever. You can ignore post-colonial subtext here; he just uses the English language with economy and discernment. That’s all.
Despite what I said above in ‘Language’, Ishiguro does have a knack of detaining a scene. Especially at reflective moments of emotional repose, he stops to set the scene and evoke a mood. This wouldn’t be worth talking about but for the fact that he does it so bloody well – be it a description of an overcast day, some rural backdrop, or some kind of rainfall that in the hands of some other writer would be chalked up as simple pathetic fallacy.
Also, he sometimes lets the narrator get figurative (for example Kathy realising that Madame sees them all as ‘spiders’). Subjective and illuminating of character, yes, but also useful imagery that adds depth overall.
An Ishiguro novel is the definition of a ‘slow build’. It’s the mark of a confident novelist for him to take his time with the exposition of plot, but (as tweeted), that’s probably because plot is so secondary to the development of character. One of his slightly irritating stylistic quirks is his setting up of the next big plot development at the end of each episode, literally separated by a line break, which gets a bit heavy handed at times, but to be honest, that might be necessary evil. Ishiguro does things like: but the real surprise was to come later, after what happened in the wardrobe, which would stay with us all forever.
The wardrobe incident began in the summer after we started to blah blah blah (yes I’m making this up by the way). It keeps the momentum up, but feels a bit clonky at times.
What is noteworthy is the skilful manner in which he bases his narrative around key events/ moments in his characters’ lives, building the narrative around crucial moments of tension of realisation or trauma or joy or relief or whatever. It’s truly beautiful that these moments can be as massive as a death or as innocuous as finding a cassette tape in a charity shop. Important moments are entirely subjective, meaning that when they occur is as important as how important they are.
It’s safe to say that Never Let Me go is almost uniformly tragic throughout. It’s a slow release of trauma and strained human relationships that becomes increasingly poignant as we are fed details of the main characters’ existence. By the half way mark, it’s been made pretty clear that this is a story of doomed lives, and all the little rifts and skirmishes of social interaction take on a different kind of poignancy. These characters are alive, and their worries are literally of life and death importance, but they are also pathetic, in the truest sense of the world. Kind of like the toys in a ‘Toy Story’ movie, battling to survive a journey across the road that the rest of us can complete without a second thought. It’s poignant, and sad.
Well, humanity. The pain of what it means to be alive when life is finite. The sci-fi, dystopian premise amplifies this for the novel’s protagonists, but the novel’s central concern is one we can all relate to. Like ‘Remains of the Day’ (which, I think, is altogether more accomplished) ‘Never Let Me Go’ is also about life lived in delusion, or realisation come too late, from which stems a lot of the novel’s poignancy. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m guessing it will focus largely on the ins and outs of hyuman relationships and the ‘love story’ element, but maybe that’s just me being prejudiced against Hollywood. Will watch and report back.
Ps: I’m still 20 pages or so away from finishing the novel. I know, I know… When I’m done I’ll re-read this stuff and amend/ add to as appropriate.
Pps: I’ve had a third of a bottle of wine, so not as lucid as I have been.