Slate Review

Never Let Me Go is the sixth novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker Prize in 1989 for his chilling rendition of a bootlickingly devoted but morally blank English butler, The Remains of the Day. It’s a thoughtful, crafty, and finally very disquieting look at the effects of dehumanization on any group that’s subject to it. In Ishiguro’s subtle hands, these effects are far from obvious. There’s no Them-Bad, Us-Good preaching; rather there’s the feeling that as the expectations of such a group are diminished, so is its ability to think outside the box it has been shut up in. The reader reaches the end of the book wondering exactly where the walls of his or her own invisible box begin and end.

The narrator, Kathy H., is looking back on her school days at a superficially idyllic establishment called Hailsham. (As in “sham”; as in Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham, exploiter of uncomprehending children.) At first you think the “H” in “Kathy H.” is the initial of a surname, but none of the students at Hailsham has a real surname. Soon you understand that there’s something very peculiar about this school. Tommy, for instance, who is the best boy at football, is picked on because he’s no good at art: In a conventional school it would be the other way around.

In fact, Hailsham exists to raise cloned children who have been brought into the world for the sole purpose of providing organs to other, “normal” people. They don’t have parents. They can’t have children. Once they graduate, they will go through a period of being “carers” to others of their kind who are already being deprived of their organs; then they will undergo up to four “donations” themselves, until they “complete.” (None of these terms has originated with Ishiguro; he just gives them an extra twist.) The whole enterprise, like most human enterprises of dubious morality, is wrapped in euphemism and shadow: The outer world wants these children to exist because it’s greedy for the benefits they can confer, but it doesn’t wish to look head-on at what is happening. We assume—though it’s never stated—that whatever objections might have been raised to such a scheme have already been overcome: By now the rules are in place and the situation is taken for granted—as slavery was once—by beneficiaries and victims alike.

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