Never Let Me Go: My Final Thoughts

writerSorry I didn’t get this posted last night. I tried, but I was exhausted, and at the end of the night I decided to trade bloggery for sleep.

The term “post-modern literature” gets tossed around far too frequently, in my opinion. In literary criticism I’ve seen the term applied to any piece of fiction written after World War II until the present, but in my head there are some very important distinctions in post-modern literature. Post-modern writers tend to explore the link between post-nuclear technology and humanity, and more often than not, the outlook for humankind isn’t good.

There’s a very good reason for this proclivity in post-modern writers. After World War II, advancements in technology forced humankind to face the reality that while science might very well answer many of the questions humankind had been in search of for centuries, we might not be very comfortable facing those answers. Nuculear power offered us amazing energy, the likes of which had never been seen before…and simultaneously, it also contained the ability to murder millions of people in the blink of an eye.

We don’t really need religion to provide us answers to life’s questions anymore, but will science save us…or will it eventually be our downfall?

That’s what comes to my mind when I think of post-modernism: science, hopelessness, and eventually solace found in humanism.

And this is where “Never Let Me Go” confuses me. At first I thought it was going to explore the effects of genetic cloning, but it never really got around to doing that. Genetic cloning, instead of serving as a motif or an allegory for the current human condition, ends up simply becoming a plot device. At the end we eventually see Tommy and Kathy struggling with their relationship, but the emotional aspect never really reaches a crescendo like I thought it would. I guess for some people that might seem more true to life, but after all the talk of deferrals and the false hope I wanted to see more raw emotion.

I suppose the reason the story confused was that without even the hint of free will, these characters were never much more than robots. Like Tank noticed, they never even considered receiving a “pardon” for donations, they only held out hope for a “deferral.” Are they programed? Do they have choice at all? It didn’t seem like it, and without that, I can’t relate to them, and therefore, their plight doesn’t offer me anything.

It’s like trying to identify with the robots in Asmiov’s Robot series. Sure, they often make choices that seem more human than human, but deep down we know that the Three Laws precludes free will.

And likewise with the donors and carers of Never Let Me Go. Whether their own mind-forged manacles prevents them from breaking free, or whether they’re genetically-created automatons, I don’t think they’re human. And without that, any chance for a post-modern exploration of science and humanity goes bye-bye.

Categories: Reading Group | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Never Let Me Go: My Final Thoughts

  1. Perhaps this robot-like feature was something, I could not put my fingers on, that kept me from really loving the characters… I don’t know…?
    I felt it was an experience a bit-out-of direct context with my own life, a bit out of reality, it seemed so distant. Before I started reading NLMG, I was reading Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The plot and events there seemed much more realistic to me, than this here. I was shocked to read that, felt involved, felt being talked to, but I did not have the same feeling here.
    Chances are I was not touched now that the question of ‘do clones have a soul’ is not a question for me. It was not a shocking revelation, when the question popped out in the book.
    My fav. character was Tommy, who was the most alive character among the many. He was the most human-like. I disliked Ruth the most, for her showing more than she really was.
    What was shocking, though was what Tank said: that people can hardly have the same experience, the one act of the young Kathy dancing to the same music again meant something totally different to the Madame and to Kathy… really sad…

    To Mark:
    ****We don’t really need religion to provide us answers to life’s questions anymore, but will science save us”¦or will it eventually be our downfall?****
    this was not in the book, was it?

  2. Yeah exactly. To Tank and SF and Mark. It failed to connect and finally was just hanging there without any catharsis or real delving into a question. What’s our next book? How about Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” for comparison?

  3. Flood

    I really enjoyed the book, and I think that the end is a challenge for the reader to face. Everybody wanted ans waited for some grand revelation, but (and I think that this is the writers style) KI builds a hope or opinion in his main character’s mind that eventually is show to be false.

    It reminds me of the end of that T.S. Eliot poem: This is the way the book(world) ends, this is the way the book(world) ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

    And despite the fact that the story does not deliver that big bang at the end I still liked it. I think KI resisted that desire in us for a predictable and spectacular ending. Although I think that this is the way he writes. I finished “Artist of the Floating World” and it had a similar feel to it. I kept waiting for the big revelation, but it never happened. It also seems like that was how “Remains of the Day” went. although I have to admit that I have only seen the movie.

    I still liked the story and want to read both the remains of the day and a pale view of hills.

    The other thing that I wanted to comment on was Mark’s feeling that he couldn’t relate to them, because they were robot/lacked free will. I wonder about that, I think that we might be more programmed than we might like to admit. Those that are obviously conditioned are smugly beneath us, but maybe we really aren’t that different.

  4. Flood

    The Atwood novel sounds fine to me (1). Or I would be interested in reading (2)”Stranger in a Strange Land” or (3)”Breakfast of Champions” or (4)”The Gods Themselves”.

    I would also be interested in reading “The Dispossessed,” something by Willa Cather (not Death comes of the Archbishop because I have just read it. I was a very good book imo), “In Cold Blood,” or “Heroes Die.”

    There you go.

  5. As Flood put it so well, the katharzis is lacking – perhaps it is part of the style. It can give the reader a strong feeling, though. The need for something else, for a change – is perhaps what the author wanted to say.
    I also couldnot sympathyze with the robot-like characters, but it was not b/c I am a firm believer of an absolutely free will of man. I don’t mind if a writer writes about how we are not free completely (for this is what I tend to believe)…what troubled me was how isolated and non-human these characters were.
    I hope I’m not repeating myself over and over again – I hope this is what a reading group is about – I never joined any…correct me if I’m speaking too much…?

  6. Flood

    SzelsoFa, I have appreciated your comments. And just to throw out a question or challenge; Is our belief in free will a myth that we have embraced to help us make it through the day?

    I had mentioned reading “The Dispossessed”, but ie is a book in a loose series and I would like to read some of those other books first.

  7. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it too. I think I’d would feel better about it if I knew for sure whether or not they could have walked away from their destiny or not.

    And I think that also I was hoping that KI would offer something more to the whole farming-humans-for-science thing that has become a trope in scifi lately. Although, I suppose an argument could be made that his nonchalance is something of a new outlook on it. We do hear that because of the donors cancer has been cured, so there’s that.

    And the Atwood book would be fine with me, too. I’ll make an official post about it tomorrow.

  8. To Mark:
    for me, there wasn’t any reference to the cure of cancer in the book. Did I miss something? I’m sure I did, please let me know. was it in the book somewhere?

    re: the characters’ destiny. I think there was an answer in the book. They were unable to walk away from it. They all followed the same routine: except for some who, like Kathy, have become consellors (carers) for a while. But the book suggests (and Kathy writes it at the beginning of her journal) that she is to finish her carreer as a consellor – so what else is left for her besides goin on like a donor?

  9. To Flood:
    ***just to throw out a question or challenge; Is our belief in free will a myth that we have embraced to help us make it through the day?***

    for some people, yes. For some others, the belief that free will does not really exist makes the day…

  10. Tank

    Good point about free will, SzelsoFa.

    The thought that I had about the book, in regards to free will, is the force of the environment these children were raised in. They had been taught from the beginning that this is what they must do. Even if you do have free will, breaking away from that which has been ingrained in us since children is a very difficult thing to do. I hate to use a strong word like brain-washing, but these children seemed resigned to their fate as a result of their upbringing.

  11. I too was bugged by the fact that the kids had been conditioned (brainwashed) since infancy to think that was their only option. There was no mention of anyone rebelling, trying to run away, saying NO, putting up a fight – they just went docilely like lambs to slaughter. Even after they find out these “deferrals” they’ve dreamt of don’t exist, they just go “Oh, I guess that’s it then”. Also, there was no sense of whether this “farming” was only happening in Britain or worldwide as well. I think the only hint of potential resistance came in the guardian’s comment about the electric fence about there sometimes being “accidents”, but that was never cleared. I felt that they had free will but they failed to exercise it, and it was very frustrating. I wanted one, even just ONE of them to question, to dissent, to escape, even in death, this pre-ordained “fate.”

  12. Hmm…. I guess the reason this all bugged me so much is that I’m all about the ethos of the epic (and/or romantic) hero, a la SGGK: “True men can but try.” That’s why the fact that they didn’t even try to stand up pissed me off…. which then would go to suggest that because they didn’t try, they weren’t “true men”… I gave it 4/5 at Amazon – I think it’s a worthwhile read but it didn’t transcend for me.

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