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Old 09-17-2018, 08:40 PM   #46
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If the clones were completely impersonal and never seen in society, maybe, but that wasn't the situation presented. They were out and about in society. The donation centers were visible to anyone. The clones themselves were traveling all through the country as "carers". Even before that they were able to travel and interact with people. They weren't anonymous, impersonal things, they were people. Even if you don't interact with them you can see them and you can see that they are people.

I have to wonder how much of the fear or revulsion that the people (Madame and Ms. Emily in particular) had was because of the clones and how much was because of what their society had accepted. A society that can accept that can accept anything and is unlikely to survive for long I think. It's not a large step from using the clones as presented to using children who have a physical or mental handicap the same way or using the elderly or <insert marginalized group here> or <insert skin-tone here>, etc.
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Old 09-17-2018, 11:09 PM   #47
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It's not so long ago that a servant would bring up a family and tell their children that if they did really well they might get to be servants in a good house. That was what they had to aspire to. Life as a servant was difficult and generally shorter than their self-professed superiors. By and large, these servants did not rebel.

Even today it is recognised that lower socio-economic group have a shorter life expectancy than higher. And the rich are often called snobs because they prefer the company of their economic equals, and reverse snobbery is not rare, so we continue to form natural segregations into poor suburbs and rich ones. (The right and wrong side of the tracks.) And even on the poorer end of the scale we have people crossing the street rather than pass too close to homeless and destitute drunks. But aside from a few thieves, in general is no rebellion by the poor in search of their share of life expectancy.

I can anticipate that such comparisons will meet with resistance because there has been no deliberate killing of the poor/servant classes for body parts to aid the rich. But the examples, I think, demonstrate that we humans are very good at accepting things, even very ugly and unfair things, and in that light the story presented does not seem quite so unbelievable.


It is obvious that the cloning is not simple copying: these clones are unable to breed, so some genetic manipulation has taken place. How much? Is, or was, it enough that early versions of these clones seemed genuinely subhuman? Might that have been the start of believing they truly were animals being bred for their flesh. bfisher mentioned the Nazi's and their Final Solution, so given the timing and alternate history of this story we might see there are grounds for thinking the situation is not so incredible. Just because it has not been explained doesn't mean an explanation does not exist, and what we are left with is the context for this story: an exploration of people living out their lives as best they can. However unfair it seems from the outside, for them it is all they have ever known.
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Old 09-17-2018, 11:48 PM   #48
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@Dazrin. Interesting viewpoint. Personally I think the view of human nature you present here is a little optimistic. We have great capacity for good, but also great capacity for indifference or even evil. And a great capacity for rationalisation.

Yes. The clones are people, which is brought home to us as readers very well by the in-depth portrayal of the characters. This is just the point. The more removed people are from other people, the more prepared we are to treat them badly. But I'm not sure that even being confronted every day with the fact they the clones are people would make any difference whatsoever to many. How do you weigh the life of a stranger against the life of someone close to you, or for that matter your own life. Particularly when it is made easy for you to ignore the issue.

Like much in the book it is not made very clear, but it seems to me in any event that the reason for the rural settings and the lonely roads is that the Centres are kept in these areas. The carers travel from centre to centre. Whilst they are obviously not prevented from mingling with the rest of society, when they do there is nothing to make them stand out or alert people to what they are. And the rest of society just doesn't want to know. It seems that when this is disclosed, it is greeted with revulsion, for many reasons.

The society is no more repulsive than some that have existed for much of human history. In fact, for the majority of those living in that society it is probably about as close to a utopia as we have come. Think our society but with virtually all illnesses cured. Are people really going to give that up for the sake of a tiny minority kept in the shadows?
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Old 09-18-2018, 02:51 PM   #49
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I'm going through the posts and reading them closely, but I thought I'd skip ahead to say that this is explicitly set in

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England, late 1990s
It says so right in the text, at the very beginning. So definitely alternative history, set in the the recent past from when Ishiguro wrote it.

Now to go back and start picking up points.
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Old 09-18-2018, 03:09 PM   #50
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Basically, the society as presented, even in the limited view, is not believable. In any way.
My own thought was why go through the cycles of donations? Not only is that far more expensive, a clone who dies early in the donation cycle is a loss. Why not harvest everything at one fell swoop? Although I'll grant that the most chilling aspect of the book to me was the suggestion of the post-completion existence, where presumably the clones were kept in a state of suspended animation (but not a mindless one) while everything was put to good use. But yeah, the economics of it strained my credulity too, and too much, so then the question became how well it worked as a fable.

Not very well, for me. I thought the framework was too slight for the weighty issues it purports to raise. It was lazy. If the author has nothing to say and no vision to impart, then the reader has to do too much of the work. This didn't grab me sufficiently to make it worth my while.

Really, all this was a variation on a love triangle and I found it hard to care. Most especially since it seemed one characteristic of the clones was a persistent emotional immaturity. There was their incredible and universal passivity (with one or two possible exceptions*) in the face of certain death, but it was more than that. The belief that somehow falling in twue wuv would gain them a reprieve? Maybe at 12. But they never grew out of it!

*Another instance where Ishiguro threw out something more a little more interesting in a very pedestrian account, the girl who left and returned as a ghost? Was she the lone rebel and thus anathematized? And the myth of the handless and footless boy, well, that was the incarnation of what was in store and further evidence that the clones knew on some level.

All that talk about souls. :yawn: I think Ishiguro watched too much Buffy at the turn of the century. It was lame as metonymy for humanity.

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Old 09-18-2018, 08:42 PM   #51
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<snip> Really, all this was a variation on a love triangle and I found it hard to care. Most especially since it seemed one characteristic of the clones was a persistent emotional immaturity. There was their incredible and universal passivity (with one or two possible exceptions*) in the face of certain death, but it was more than that. The belief that somehow falling in twue wuv would gain them a reprieve? Maybe at 12. But they never grew out of it! <snip>
In the same way that we breed animals to be passive, perhaps the clones were "bred" to be so.

I found their passivity and acceptance of their fate believable. I think people do go along with the way things are, when they are trained from babyhood that this is their role in life. People who rebel and fight back are the exception rather than the rule I suspect.

These children weren't actually taught very much at all. They could read and write, given that they were supposed to write an essay after they left the school, they did their art, they played games. But that was it. The idea of getting a job in an office, of which Ruth dreamed, was apparently an impossibility.

I do agree that the method of harvesting the organs one at a time didn't make any sort of economic sense, and it was hard to believe that the society that was prepared to run such a system would spend so much time and money looking after the donors between operations. But again, they were less likely to rebel this way than if they knew their lives would come to an end more suddenly.
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Old 09-18-2018, 08:46 PM   #52
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I'm going through the posts and reading them closely, but I thought I'd skip ahead to say that this is explicitly set in

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England, late 1990s
It says so right in the text, at the very beginning. So definitely alternative history, set in the the recent past from when Ishiguro wrote it.[...]
Ah, I remember seeing that and wondering about it. I mean, it's on the dedication page so I was never certain whether it was supposed to be part of the text or part of the dedication (some people do put some strange, sometimes private joke/reference, things on the dedication page).
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Old 09-18-2018, 08:50 PM   #53
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These children weren't actually taught very much at all. They could read and write, given that they were supposed to write an essay after they left the school, they did their art, they played games. But that was it. The idea of getting a job in an office, of which Ruth dreamed, was apparently an impossibility.
It was another glimpse I had of something more interesting going on, that apparently it was up to the clone when s/he started training as a carer. Not only were The Cottages a transition where the clones learned to function in the real world, more iniquitously it seemed to serve as a goad for the clones to move on. Apparently they eventually got sufficiently bored with marking time to request the next step.
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Old 09-18-2018, 09:37 PM   #54
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The bit-at-a-time donation is yet another item with many possible explanations. It may even be as simple as "this is the way it's always been done" - harking back to the beginnings when bit-at-a-time was the way it started (for whatever reason). Now, maybe, their equivalent of big-pharma wants to retain their investment in the infrastructure.

I'm not convinced any of the three held any real faith in the true-love=reprieve thing by they time they left the cottages. I'm not sure of Ruth's motives (was it truly repentance or just another form of manipulation?), but I see Tommy and Kathy going through with it because that's what you do near the end: if there's some option to be explored (to extend your life even just a few months) before you let yourself die then you explore it. It happens now, so I didn't see anything at all strange about it in the book.

Their passivity seems strange and disturbing, and it's one of the thoughts that clings after the book ends: how much of their passivity was a matter of upbringing, possibly of their genes, and how much is just human nature?
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Old 09-18-2018, 10:36 PM   #55
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[...] so then the question became how well it worked as a fable.

Not very well, for me. I thought the framework was too slight for the weighty issues it purports to raise. It was lazy. If the author has nothing to say and no vision to impart, then the reader has to do too much of the work. This didn't grab me sufficiently to make it worth my while. [...]
My own reaction to the book I found a little surprising. There is a lot about this book that I would have expected to find annoying and unfulfilling, but for some reason it all worked for me. Now I find myself looking for reasons why.

As you've seen, I've come up with many ways to fill out the technical background. I don't recall trying to do that while I was reading, but apparently the lack didn't jar too heavily on me. I think, in the beginning, I just assumed that background would be filled in as we went on. As the story progressed I became fascinated by the steady and relentless revelation of the context surrounding the three protagonists, and became invested in that as a fait accompli, so that by the time I reached the end the technical justifications for the context just didn't matter any more.

If I had not become invested in the story as I did, I imagine that I would have come away with much the same reaction I see from others here, and think that the author had been too lazy to construct a credible framework. But it did work for me, so there seems nothing lazy about it. Subtle yes, and still not clear in my head despite knowing that it had an impact on me, but definitely not lazy.


Again I am struck by the different ways we react to different books. To me, Dandelion Wine seemed lazy, the author just pushing his short stories together and hoping people would accept it as a novel, but others got caught up in a feeling generated by his writing. Here it turns around, and I'm the one that got caught up enough not to care about the flaws - I can see them, but they just don't matter to me.
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Old 09-18-2018, 10:54 PM   #56
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Their passivity seems strange and disturbing, and it's one of the thoughts that clings after the book ends: how much of their passivity was a matter of upbringing, possibly of their genes, and how much is just human nature?
Exactly. I don't think we need to resort to genetic manipulation or even upbringing to explain this passivity. It is difficult indeed for people in general to fight the system. One need only look to the Concentration Camps to see this. When faced with the most shocking treatment, some fight. But most do not.
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Old 09-18-2018, 11:57 PM   #57
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Finished the book tonight, haven't read any comments yet. I didn't like it; how many times did the author say, Later I realized, or some variation thereof?

Instead of endless talk about childhood conflicts, I would have liked to know how the program worked--how the people to be cloned were chosen, just what was taken from the clones that let them generally survive till the fourth time, what prevented the clones from just leaving once school was over and they had some freedom.

I wanted to like it, I really did. And I was intrigued until it became clear the children were clones; after that, I was bored.
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Old 09-19-2018, 12:55 AM   #58
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I will be interested to see whether Cat Lady was able to bring herself to try the book and if so whether she finished it. Her comments on this aspect given her attitude to anything Science Fiction would be interesting.
It wasn't the SF aspect that bothered me, it was the lack of a believable story and a decent plot.

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I didn’t read this book in any way as Science Fiction, but more as an allegory of the way we consider “the other” as less than ourselves, whether that is a fellow human who is a refugee for example, or a non-human creature which we consider to be there for our use and convenience, unworthy of consideration.
But there was no moral conflict here, because who in their right mind advocates cloning humans for body parts? It's too extreme. Certainly there may be moral conflicts in less extreme circumstances--experimenting on prisoners, using fetuses for research, conceiving a child to serve as a bone marrow donor for a sibling (Jodi Picoult wrote a novel using that last idea; I haven't read it). In those situations, it's at least possible to convince oneself that the end justifies the means.

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Exactly. I don't think we need to resort to genetic manipulation or even upbringing to explain this passivity. It is difficult indeed for people in general to fight the system. One need only look to the Concentration Camps to see this. When faced with the most shocking treatment, some fight. But most do not.
Kathy and Tom do finally have enough gumption to try to free themselves by appealing to Madame; is there any reason they can't just hop in Kathy's car and drive away? Is someone going to hunt them down? It's not like they need to start an uprising and engage in a fierce battle to the death to escape; all they need to do it get in the damn car!
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Old 09-19-2018, 01:36 AM   #59
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But how would they live? They haven’t been trained to do anything in order to earn a living. They have been kept, like farm animals. I don’t think they had any real options, as they wouldn’t have anyone to help them.

If they tried to get some sort of job, it would probably become clear very quickly from their inability to do anything, that they were clones, and they would have been handed over to the authorities.
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Old 09-19-2018, 01:44 AM   #60
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@Catlady. My reaction to the book was very similar to yours. Though I was able to suspend my disbelief I found the lack of background and detail and the deliberate vagueness very frustrating. And the essential lack of plot. It was just about everything I hate in a lot of literary fiction. Ironically, your objections on the basis of credibility are the same objections that many lovers of Science Fiction would have. I'm most impressed that you got through it.
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