Content warning premise spoilers
Never Let Me Go is another book from the #SFFBookClub backlog. I content warned this for spoilers, but it's mostly for the "clone" aspect, even as I feel like this was pretty obvious from the get go. I don't even think that this is a "twist" book, but I think the slow building reveal is also effective and I didn't want to ruin it.
This is a first person perspective story about a group of kids in an English boarding school and their lives after. They slowly learn that they are infertile clones, and that the trajectory of their lives is to be organ donors for "real" people. That said, despite being a book about the lives of clones, it isn't a book about that at all.
The reader's guide at the back of the book has a snippet from (presumably) this article which I liked a lot:
But there are things I am more interested in than the clone thing. How are they trying to find their place in the world and make sense of their lives? To what extent can they transcend their fate? As time starts to run out, what are the things that really matter? Most of the things that concern them concern us all, but with them it is concertinaed into this relatively short period of time.
I think this quote really helped put this book into perspective for me. This is not a story about resisting or struggling against an unfair situation. Characters largely move from states of ignorance directly to acceptance; there's no denial, there's a half attempt bargaining (for deferral, not escape), and there's barely even any anger about it--at most, Tommy screams into a field, only at the very end. There's much more anger from the non-clone teachers and guardians about how clones are treated, sadness about the harshness of this new world, and revulsion(!) about the clones themselves.
Instead, it's really a book about poignancy of life and friendships. I think it's trying to ask questions of "what's important (and why do anything), if you only have a finite amount of time to live" as if that doesn't apply to all of us (and as if we all aren't in our own unfair situation, to various degrees).
I have only read one other Ishiguro book, Klara and the Sun, which felt like a sister book to this one. Kathy and Klara both share an optimistic perspective, speak in a similar matter-of-fact tone, and don't struggle against the (horrific) limitations of their world. It's similarly a dystopia and science fiction, but these are at the margins of a personal story.
Ultimately, my feelings about this book are mixed. I think this would have worked much better as a shorter length piece. I found myself much more interested by Klara in Klara and the Sun than I did with the school friendship dance between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. There was some good school and growing up vibes, but there wasn't enough depth to the foregrounded story to make the its metaphor stand on its on.