Happy April 1st, everyone! Today wraps up the second month of Reading Buddies. Looking ahead to April, I’ll be reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Feel free to read along!
I want to start out today’s wrap-up post on Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro by considering Kathy, the novel’s narrator. (As usual with these Reading Buddies posts, spoilers are fair game, so read at your own risk!) In the comments of my previous post on Never Let Me Go, there was some interesting discussion about Kathy. It really started me thinking about Kathy and the impact her narrative style has on the book; without her, or with a different first-person narrator, I think the book would have been drastically different.
It’s obvious Kathy omits details as she’s telling her story, yet I never got the sense that she was deliberately lying. Jenners pointed out that “it was like the author was having you write your own story about this society on your own because you get the details from Kathy in such a fragmented and matter of fact way.” I think that’s part of what makes the book so effective; you can’t tell what’s really going on, so you have to keep trying to figure it out. Yet Kathy tells us she’s writing down these thoughts long after the events in the story have occurred, so she could have filled in the gaps for us using the knowledge she’d gained. Why didn’t she?
My explanation was that she’s telling the story like it happened for her. The pieces she leaves out or alludes to in passing during the earlier chapters are left vague because that’s how they were for her. She’s relating her reality to us, as she recalls it being at the time each event takes place. The holes in her narrative reflect the holes in her knowledge at each point in her life. It’s possible she’s doing this deliberately. It may also be that she doesn’t realize she’s leaving these things out, that she’s just recalling what happened within the context of her own reality. It’s not clear that she ever did fully learn what “normal” people’s lives were like, and so it may be that she sometimes doesn’t explain herself because if she were talking to someone with her same background, she wouldn’t have needed to do so.
Anita had a slightly different take, and one that I also like. She says of Kathy that “there’s a sense in which she’s holding back on what she is saying — not so much because she’s trying to mislead or anything, but more because she’s trying to resist coming to terms with the emotional impact of her situation.” Could it be that there are some things too painful for Kathy to recall, or that she isn’t ready to face yet? Perhaps she prefers to preserve the innocence of her youth by leaving the difficult issues for later in the story. What’s your take? How do you feel Kathy’s narration shaped and affected the novel?
I’ve struggled to put into words how I felt when I finished the last page of Never Let Me Go and closed the book. It doesn’t seem to be a single emotion, but a slippery combination that I can’t capture. There were bits of sorrow, heartbreak, and shock, certainly, but there was also sympathy, respect, awe, and a lot of other things.
There were a couple of things that hit me hard. First was the relationship between Kathy and Tommy and watching it in its final moments. Second was the realization that carer to donor is a progression as well as a relationship. I’d spent most of the book assuming there were carers and donors, two separate roles filled by separate individuals. When, in the beginning, Kathy talks about how she’s almost fulfilled her carer duties, I assumed she’d be retiring, sort of, moving on to something else. Realizing Kathy would follow Ruth and Tommy, that ultimately their fate was hers as well, completely changed the way I felt about her story. I’d always felt Kathy was sort of an outsider, somehow exempt from the paths taken by the donors in her safe, special carer role. But Never Let Me Go is as much a way for her to be remembered as it is a tribute to Ruth and Tommy and the others.
I think one of the most interesting and also heartbreaking parts of Never Let Me Go was the scene where Kathy and Tommy visited Miss Emily. Interesting, because of how many mysterious things were examined and explained; heartbreaking, because not only could Miss Emily not offer the magical extension, but the conversation essentially destroyed all the history and mythology the Hailsham kids had created for themselves. It stripped them down to their original purpose, all visions of a special or even normal life evaporated. It drastically shifted the tone and direction of the book for me.
Whew. I could keep going! I found Never Let Me Go to be wonderful to read but also wonderful to think about, and it affected me intellectually as well as emotionally. I’m thus far quite impressed with Ishiguro, and I’m glad I have The Remains of the Day waiting for me on my bookshelf. I won’t get to it soon, probably, but if you’re up for another Ishiguro further down the line, let me know and I’ll be in touch.
Other Reading Buddies’ thoughts on Never Let Me Go:
And of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!