Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reflections: Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a difficult novel to write about. It is a dystopian science-fiction story involving a subject matter that is grave and disturbing. It is a good thought experiment on the ethics of scientific practices that affect humanity - in both positive and negative ways. Ishiguro builds the story in a nonchalantly reserved manner, and you don’t realize when things hit you. It doesn’t hit you all at once, and it isn’t dramatic in any way, but the story washes over you only after you have read it, and it haunts you. This is a powerful novel that unequivocally makes the case that humans are humans, no matter how they come into being, and they should be treated with equal rights to freedom of will, respect, and dignity.

From the start of the novel, the reader realizes that something is eerie with the setting and the characters. And as the mystery thickens and the pieces slowly fall into place, the anticipation grips the reader with a hollow dread. Eventually, when the reader realizes what is happening, it is a sickening feeling. The feeling is even more so, because you have started to invest in the characters. The parallel story of the characters’ lives and their coming of age and maturing is simple and relatable. The more simple, realistic and relatable it is, the more difficult it becomes when the revelation of what is happening to them hits us.

I found this novel interesting from the standpoint of morality. Often times, brutal decisions are made for the common good of humanity. Historians and philosophers have grudgingly admitted that some unfortunate sacrifices are inevitable on the path to achieving something significantly beneficial to a vast majority. It’s a bleary line to determine when the sacrifices are too much and unacceptable, and if the “sacrifices” are incidental versus planned. The fact that the “intentions” are theoretically logical and not “evil”, and the benefits are theoretically as high as the sacrifices, doesn’t matter much in the “equation”. When a system puts together a meticulous plan to sacrifice a set of people to help another set of people, it is much more abhorrent than if the sacrifices were inevitable and random. Besides, the important variable that matters is the victim/s of the sacrifice. If the sacrificial victims were animals and not humans, it shades the issue differently. But with humans as victims, it is an ironical case where one (the system/the person) loses some of their essential humaneness/humanity in their quest to help humanity! 

So, there are many levels of questions on morality, life, survival, and what is acceptable in the light of scientific/medical progress, but Ishiguro leaves all this discussion to the reader. In no place does he bring his opinions to the fore or delve into the two sides of the argument or force them on the story or the characters. The story is related through the perspectives of the characters, and he lets the characters make sense of the situation simply from where they stand. 

Also, if someone like me were to write this story, it would be an emotional-fest, but there is none of that either. It is a really restrained writing style - full of insight and elegance -  that’s difficult for a writer to manage, given the nature of the subject matter. Nothing seems heavy when you are reading the book. You feel the weight only after you have finished reading. But through the simple story and understated yet lucid writing, Ishiguro delivers a strong book.

This is a haunting story that’s worth the read.

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