This book – a Booker Prize shortlisted book from a Booker Prize winning novelist – has been sat on my book shelf since forever.
I was convinced I’d read it.
I am sure I’ve had lengthy and enthusiastic discussions about it. Heated debates.
Yet, having downloaded it from Audible as a re-read, expecting something familiar and recognisable and suddenly I realise something.
I have never read this book before. Ever. It has sat as a treasured icon on my shelf … unread. I had never met Kathy, Ruth or Tommy before. I had never been inside Hailsham before.
And what a ride I’d missed out on!
Ishiguro is so adept! Kathy’s knowing but controlled narration, circling back, hinting ahead, foreshadowing and foregrounding the whole narrative. The precisely controlled and delayed the revelations of the book. Kathy narrates the novel from the final months of her life, knowing everything, but as a reader we don’t share that whole knowledge until the final chapters.
And it never seemed like a gimmicky trick – which in the hands of a lesser writer it could have! Kathy’s voice was authentic and real throughout. Clinical perhaps. Resigned. But who the hell wouldn’t be?
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth – who share a tempestuous history and relationship – are clones, bred to be harvested for their vital organs. Raised in Hailsham, which first strikes us as a simple boarding school with all the usual mixture of cliques and friendships and teenage travails, art shows, lessons and teachers, neither the characters nor readers realise that the school is anything unusual. In reality, the school is an experiment to demonstrate the humanity of the clones and, by extension, the inhumanity of the harvesting process.
And the school and Ishiguro succeed: Kathy in particular is as real and human a character as you’d want to meet.
But the novel offers absolutely no hope to its own characters. In fact, worse than offering no hope, it offers a dream of hope which it’s characters cling to desperately but which is illusory.
And heartbreakingly bleak.
It certainly does not have the tenderness and gentility of The Remains Of The Day
It is not an easy read and listening to it, excellently narrated by Kerry Fox I must say, was even more so.
There is a film of the book with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.
I’m not sure I could manage to watch it thoug