Soy Chai Bookshelf, which was awesome. The winning of the book I mean. The book was awesome too but I'll get to that. So calm down. This has been a periphery to-be-read book for years now, essentially since it came out. A friend of mine, a trusted book recommender**, told me I should, nay must, read this book. And I was going to, I really was. But see he gave me the book to read while a group of us were at a beach house for a long weekend of drinking and relaxing. I picked up the book a few times and really tried to get into it, but something would distract me. Such as "Look, we just opened up a bottle of wine." or "Do you think we should make a beer run?" Really important matters. So I didn't read it. I always meant to read it. I always thought of it as a book I wanted to read but I just never got around to it. Some other book would push this one out of the way and I never read it. Apparently all it took was getting a free copy of it that made me read it.
Normally I don't worry too much about about spoilers in a book and put the warnings in as almost an after thought. But this is a book that I think requires the spoiler alert because I think the reading experience is better the less you know about it. I assume anyway, since I already knew a decent amount of the plot before going in and wished I didn't. So...
This book sneaks up on you. It starts so innocent. It's just the story of a boarding school somewhere in the English countryside, narrated from a former student. You think you know what you're about to get, you think it's going to be a simple coming of age story. But then there are hints that something isn't right and you start to question what's going on in the school, why is there so much emphasis on the students artwork, why are the kids buying used good trucked in from somewhere outside, who is this Madame? The thing that really makes it eerie is the fact that the story is told from the point of view of Kathy H., one of the former students, as she remembers her time in Hailsham and the few years after. Her narration feels like you're sitting with Kathy as she tells you her story. You don't necessarily feel like a confidant. It's more like Kathy is sort of weary telling you this story, and she jumps around a bit, bringing up something and telling you she'll explain to you why that was important in a bit.
Slowly you find out what is really going on at the school, or more accurately what's really going on with the students. They're clones with no parents and no ability to become parents themselves who are created and raised to eventually provide organs to the "real people". There's no sadness from the students, from Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy. There's no desire to try to avoid their fate to go through their 4 donations and then eventually "complete". I was going to say there's no big reveal moment where this reality comes to light, but I suppose there is. It doesn't feel like a big reveal though because the students don't respond to the news as if it's a big reveal. Kathy remembers how they were often "told but not told" about what their future held, how they were given the information when they were just too young to really understand what it meant, so they always knew what was coming without ever examining the details. You, the reader, get upset and offended and expect the characters to react the same way and then they just...don't. So then you start to question your reaction and you end up with an uneasy feeling as the story never progresses the way you thought it would. It's like a sociological experiment*** and you're the subject.
I suppose this isn't the best review of the book. It's really only looking at the twist that isn't even really a twist because it comes fairly early on. But obviously this is the biggest part of the book and the part I most want to be like omgsomeonetalktomeaboutthis! If you want a well thought out, well-written review, I would like to direct you over to the review Margaret Atwood wrote for Slate.
This book was excellent. I wanted something more but it was mostly because the story is so far from what you're expecting. I certainly recommend it to people and the less you know the better. Though obviously if you haven't read the book and you skipped over the spoilers part, you haven't really learned anything about the book. Trust me, that's the best way to go about this book. Just dive right in.
*That would be "Before China-Rican Reading Challenge"
**He's the friend that lent me Special Topics in Calamity Physics which I really need to get back to him.
***Specifically the one where they put a bunch of people in a room together and had them fill out some form. All of a sudden a smoke alarm starts going off and smoke starts coming in from under a door. Well you'd think everyone would get out of there cos FIRE. But really all but one person is in on the experiment. The one person usually looks around to see what the group wants to do and they decide it's best to just sit in the room until the proctor comes back. Most of the time the subject agrees even though it means (in their mind anyway) they're about to be roasted. The power of peer pressure.
Title quote from page 16.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage International, 2005.