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Old 09-16-2018, 11:57 PM   #31
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Thanks for the link. It is very interesting to hear his explanation ... but I am very glad that I read the book first.
Me too. I think as a study of people dealing with mortality it fails. Any other opinions?
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Old 09-17-2018, 12:35 AM   #32
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[...] It is just a device to tell a story he wanted to tell, and we must suspend our disbelief. [...]
I don't think it's ever a case that the reader "must" do anything. It is up to the author to elicit the reader's cooperation and participation in revealing the story. (Readers take a more active role in story telling than, say, film-viewers.) But, it doesn't matter how good the author is, the result is never 100% effective.

Authors that do not follow genre-convention (eg: "Literary" authors) take a risk. They ask the readers to take a journey that is not familiar, that the reader may well misinterpret. Once the cooperation goes astray it becomes like a three-legged race where the pair get tangled up, and no one is going anywhere. It's no one's fault, necessarily*, it's just the way it sometimes turns out - a consequence of the risk taken.

(* Yes, there are inadequate authors and there are lazy readers, but in cases like we see here I think we can discount these as explanations - there is ample evidence that neither is true.)
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Old 09-17-2018, 12:58 AM   #33
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Me too. I think as a study of people dealing with mortality it fails. Any other opinions?
Not sure "study" is a good word, there's more to this story than any one element. But to the extent that Ishiguro felt pushed in that interview to explain his intention then perhaps that aspect did fail. Or, more accurately, it failed for some people. And that's really all you can say. For others ... well, I think the book works overall. Perfect, no, but very very good.

I am still wondering about the boat they go to see near the end. Is there some particular significance to the boat and it's location? The location seems important, but I haven't yet worked out why. And why has this fairly simple thing become a widespread rumour among the donors? I keep wondering if I missed something here.
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Old 09-17-2018, 01:00 AM   #34
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I don't think it's ever a case that the reader "must" do anything. It is up to the author to elicit the reader's cooperation and participation in revealing the story. (Readers take a more active role in story telling than, say, film-viewers.) But, it doesn't matter how good the author is, the result is never 100% effective.

Authors that do not follow genre-convention (eg: "Literary" authors) take a risk. They ask the readers to take a journey that is not familiar, that the reader may well misinterpret. Once the cooperation goes astray it becomes like a three-legged race where the pair get tangled up, and no one is going anywhere. It's no one's fault, necessarily*, it's just the way it sometimes turns out - a consequence of the risk taken.

(* Yes, there are inadequate authors and there are lazy readers, but in cases like we see here I think we can discount these as explanations - there is ample evidence that neither is true.)
Perhaps "must" was not a good choice of word. I actually agree with you. As has been discussed before, we all have different levels to which we are able to suspend our disbelief. Personally I was able to suspend my disbelief. Others of course, as you say, will not.

Personally I don't regard taking a risk as a hallmark or distinguishing characteristic of literary fiction. In particular I think the only risk that the author took with this book was including any element of science fiction at all. The reason why I did not particularly like it is that it did in fact follow some of the main conventions associated with literary fiction which I am not enamoured of. 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.
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Old 09-17-2018, 01:18 AM   #35
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Not sure "study" is a good word, there's more to this story than any one element. But to the extent that Ishiguro felt pushed in that interview to explain his intention then perhaps that aspect did fail. Or, more accurately, it failed for some people. And that's really all you can say. For others ... well, I think the book works overall. Perfect, no, but very very good.

I am still wondering about the boat they go to see near the end. Is there some particular significance to the boat and it's location? The location seems important, but I haven't yet worked out why. And why has this fairly simple thing become a widespread rumour among the donors? I keep wondering if I missed something here.
I don't think something will ever fail for every single reader.

I too wondered about the boat and its location, but can only speculate. It is quite literally stuck in the Marsh, not entirely divorced from the water but stranded. Perhaps it is intended to be a metaphor for the the life of the donors. And for the futility of escape from their fate. As for the rumour. For the donors, their lives narrowed to hospital beds, the clock at 15 or 10 or 5 to midnight, any chance to escape that world, even for a short time, would be significant. And, unlike real escape, possible. For Ruth, like most or all of the donors seeing the boat, it was likely their last time out of the hospital before completion.
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Old 09-17-2018, 02:26 AM   #36
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Thanks for the link.

No wonder the book failed for me on several points. He was focusing on something else and sounds like he just didn't care about the world he created for this, just the people.

I find that disappointing since I don't think it would have taken too much to provide enough background where I would have been able to suspend my disbelief and focus on the parts he wanted us to focus on. As it is, I was too distracted by what I saw as holes.
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Old 09-17-2018, 05:07 AM   #37
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I am late to the discussion as I have been away from home over the weekend. I shall be able to listen to the audio when I get home tomorrow - thanks for that, latepaul.

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.
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You were less than human, so it didn’t matter.
darryl I liked your comparison of the Hailsham students as being like free range hens as opposed to the less fortunate students being like birds in a battery farm. At least their lives were happy during their childhood, but the same fate awaits them all.

One thing in the book which I noticed particularly was the emptiness of the parts of England through which Kathy travels, especially emphasised by the bleak setting of the end of the book. It was almost as if all the vibrancy of life was closed off from the path each of these so-called donors had to travel, down “the way to dusty death”.

I found the very simplicity of the telling of the story only made its implications the more chilling.

I have more to add, but will leave it until I get home tomorrow.

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Old 09-17-2018, 07:26 AM   #38
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I am currently experiencing minor flooding (the bridge in and out of my neighborhood has been washed out by a cresting creek), so I am a bit late to discussing my own nomination.

I see that many a strong feeling has been elicited, and that is all I can hope for in a book club selection. A few comments that, hopefully, I can expand on later:

First, the book got a lot of attention in the medical realm when it was published, so clearly, bioethicists don't find the question concluded as some of you do. In fact, in a review in the Nursing Standard nursing journal, the editor stated that she "fretted about these children long after [she] had finished reading." (Gray, Jean. Nursing Standard (through 2013); London Vol. 20, Iss. 14-16, (Dec 14, 2005-Jan 3, 2006): 29.)

There is also a great discussion of the novel as abolitionist literature rather than dystopia in the Human Rights Quarterly. I quote some of it here:

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In the early nineteenth century, abolitionist writers, frustrated with efforts to reason with undecided and pro-slavery adversaries, appealed instead to their emotional sensibilities. This approach turned away from the public sphere of debate, rhetoric, and political activism for what was believed to be the universal realm of sentiment. There is a similar, calculated use of feeling at work in [Never Let Me Go].
Feeling weighs heavily in the construction of Kathy H’s memoir, and the emotional connections between characters and between Kathy H and the reader figure preeminently in the novel’s notion of what it means to be human. Therefore, the more critically productive approach to would be to consider the work as a hybrid of sentimental and abolitionist literatures.
Shaddox, Karl. Human Rights Quarterly; Baltimore Vol. 35, Iss. 2, (May 2013): 448-469,536

I know that for most of us, the question of cloning of this kind is long-since decided. But viewing it as a narrative of modern day slavery gives it a different flavor. Clearly this is taken to an extreme, but the people who will be donors are also forced to provide for the post-operative care and mental well-being of those already undergoing donations.

A few of you have termed this "alternative history" and I think that goes hand in hand with bfisher's comment below. We know nothing about this cloning program except that it started just after the war. We assume that this is WWII. Is it not just possible that more of the Nazi science bled out into the wider world in this version of post-war Europe? We never see mention of any other countries or wars after that.

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The use of "complete" as an intransitive verb was brilliant; in the sense of the Nazi's usage of "Final Solution" as an extreme euphemism - a hint of the larger society that we never see in the novel.
I will try to respond to more later, but I'm back to flood watch now.
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Old 09-17-2018, 12:29 PM   #39
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[...] I know that for most of us, the question of cloning of this kind is long-since decided. [...]
I'm glad to see the qualification of "this kind", albeit a little out of place since we have very little idea of what "this kind" actually is, within this story. Cloning is a much more complicated, and at times subtle, question than some comments here would seem to envisage. I expect cloning will continue play a part in ethics debates for a long time to come.

The fact that the book does involve cloning in its plot will obviously raise some thoughts regarding the subject, but I think it's important to realise that vague concept presented in the book is far too nebulous a base from which to discuss the technicalities and ethics of cloning in our world (as opposed to the fait accompli presented in the alternative world in Never Let Me Go).

The book also involves organ donation (or something similar), so it might also raise some thoughts regarding that subject - but the same disclaimer applies: the book isn't about organ donation and does not provide sufficient detail about the subject to form a basis for a technical or ethical discussion of organ donation in our world.


It is interesting to try and consider the book in abolitionist terms. I can see how snippets in there (particularly in the explanation presented by Miss Emily) could be interpreted in this light. It's something a reader might read into the story but I think the story itself is too one sided for it to be very convincing in this regard. The clones seem remote. There is insufficient conflict, or even basic interaction, with the wider population for slavery to feel like an appropriate analogue.

I am fairly certain there is interaction with the wider population (that scene in Norfolk seems to demonstrate that it happens), but there seems to be no sense of conflict - at least not from the perspective of the clones - merely self-inflicted isolation. The clones are accepting of their role in society. That mild and apparently ungrudging acceptance is one of the many interesting - and disturbing - things about the story.


P.S. I am very pleased you nominated this book! I hope the flooding doesn't get too severe.
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Old 09-17-2018, 01:15 PM   #40
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I'm glad to see the qualification of "this kind", albeit a little out of place since we have very little idea of what "this kind" actually is, within this story. Cloning is a much more complicated, and at times subtle, question than some comments here would seem to envisage. I expect cloning will continue play a part in ethics debates for a long time to come.

The fact that the book does involve cloning in its plot will obviously raise some thoughts regarding the subject, but I think it's important to realise that vague concept presented in the book is far too nebulous a base from which to discuss the technicalities and ethics of cloning in our world (as opposed to the fait accompli presented in the alternative world in Never Let Me Go).
I think the "this kind" can be taken as "cloning living, growing, thinking humans for the express purposes of taking their organs until they are unable to live". I think the ethics are very straightforward and long-since decided for that.

I don't think anyone is going to try to debate the technicalities of how the cloning happens but the ethics of doing the cloning, in the methods and for the purposes shown in the book, is fair game and there certainly is enough to talk about in regards to our world.

Since the novel is presented as in almost our world with a different technological path "after the war", the great big hole of "what could have changed so radically that people will accept this practice" is relevant. I can't think of anything where society would change this much and be accepting of this practice.
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Old 09-17-2018, 03:10 PM   #41
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There is a lot to not like about this book from the perspective of a science fiction story. So much is not explained, or seems not really credible in a strict science fiction sense (perhaps only because it is not explained). Indeed, even the setting the story is not entirely clear. (Is it alternative history or set in the future? It didn't seem to me that this was absolutely stated.) But it turns out that this, that I might normally find annoying, is one of the things that I think makes the story work for me. The vagueness of the setting, the uneducated simplicity of the telling, makes it all seem real and convincing and important in a way that more explicit explanation may have distracted from. (I found this recently in another book, where the long and detailed "world building" came across as exactly that, "world building" - and only artificial worlds need building and explaining so of course the story felt artificial.)

The lack of explicit explanation also means that what may seem like holes may merely be lack of knowledge, or lack of imagination on our own part, and that in itself leaves you thinking about the book. For, if nothing else, this is a book that left me thinking about it long after completion. ... And I'll never think of the word "completion" in quite the same way again.
Yes, the underlying bio-technology is not convincing in the least. It is difficult to imagine how cloning humans and then butchering the clones could result in the benefits described. It doesn’t seem credible at all. Nor is it credible that any truly humane, caring society would tolerate such a system.

That is why I very much would like to know more about the setting and the external society but I suppose that the author would say that the book’s external fictional world is not the concern of this novel.

But I also found that the book kept (keeps) me thinking and like you “I’ll never think of the word ‘completion’ in quite the same way again.”

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Old 09-17-2018, 03:55 PM   #42
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So, no time to read through the entries here. Actually, not really a lot of time to give a full analysis: I finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro on Friday, but then took off on an adventure of not-quite-epic proportions this weekend and I have a lot of catching up to do. So my short assessment is as follows:

Ruth was a manipulative, conniving b*tch. Her near-final act was to "apologize" for keeping Kathy and Tom apart for nearly their whole lives merely because they had a connection that Ruth obviously hadn't found up to that point. Which apology, by the way, had a nice little time-bomb attached-- the dashing of hopes when they followed her little goose-chase to see Madame and find out it was all a lie.

Yes, I'm certain Ruth already knew the truth... I think she followed that other couple's quest quite keenly and knew what awaited Tommy and Kath when they followed her directions. That's vindictiveness supreme.

Her insecurity was painfully obvious, and it's almost disingenuous of Kathy and Tom to not see this, but then they were all sheltered through their youth, were they not?

The second part of the book was a bit of a slog, the first part held little interest, and I had to wait until the final act before becoming fully engaged in the narrative. But I made it through and I will probably never read this book again, but I am not regretting it.
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Old 09-17-2018, 04:02 PM   #43
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Good book. It's strength is it's depiction of young life in a school environment. Ishiguro really is exceptional at evoking a character's reality. It transported me. Regarding all the sci-fi dystopian stuff, I think he did a good job. It was beautifully handled. A bit bleak, but then so was Remains of the Day and Artist of the Floating World. Ultimately, Ishiguro is a brilliant writer, and he showcases his ability in this book. I enjoyed it. Recommended. The sci-fi element is incidental.
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Old 09-17-2018, 05:13 PM   #44
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I am fairly certain there is interaction with the wider population (that scene in Norfolk seems to demonstrate that it happens), but there seems to be no sense of conflict - at least not from the perspective of the clones - merely self-inflicted isolation. The clones are accepting of their role in society. That mild and apparently ungrudging acceptance is one of the many interesting - and disturbing - things about the story.
This “acceptance” was one of my biggest struggles in reading this book. It is very difficult for us to suspend belief that in this novel’s world cloning is an accepted practice and the clones are accepting of their fate. I as a reader wanted rebellion or more understanding of the non-clone outside world. It’s England but not England. It’s an alternate 20th century world (not futuristic) similar to ours but not ours. It was difficult for me to accept this acceptance, but I think it’s imorotant to understanding the story that the author wanted to tell. I read the following in an interview with Ishiguro:

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With "Never Let Me Go" I knew from the start that I didn't want to write a story about an enslaved, exploited class that would then rebel. My subject matter wasn't going to be the triumph of the human spirit. I was interested in the human capacity to accept what must seem like a limited and cruel fate.
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Old 09-17-2018, 07:58 PM   #45
darryl
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For those of you who find this cloning scenario difficult to believe, I ask you to engage in an uncomfortable thought experiment. Let's say you have a Child with a bright future and most of their lives ahead of them. Your child is diagnosed with Cancer. You are fortunate indeed. Only a few short years ago this particular type of cancer would have destined them to an early death after much suffering. But now it can be cured with a series of simple injections, the latest result of extensive scientific research. This miracle drug, like many others in the last 10 years or so, can only be produced through the use of human organs, which have previously undiscovered properties promising, in time, cures for just about anything.

Now let's assume that you know nothing about how the drug is produced. As a moral person, do you have a duty to enquire into how that drug was developed and produced? And then allow your child to die? Perhaps the solution is to save your child? After all, quantities of the drug are available. The damage done in producing it cannot be undone. You can then fight to bring the program to public attention, denying others the ability to save their loved ones in the future if you succeed. A lovely rationalisation.

Does your answer change if you have heard vague rumours about the program? How about if you had watched TV specials and read newspaper articles exposing it? Together, of course, with the balancing view. These are not human beings. Only clones created specifically for this purpose. Not people. They have no souls. Another lovely rationalisation. But human beings love rationalisation.

The fact is that as much as we may talk about knowing what we would do and congratulate ourselves on our virtue, the only true test comes when we ourselves are placed in that position. Which I fervently hope none of us are. For myself, I think I would save my child. I doubt I would bother with the rationalisations. Afterwards I'd probably just try not to think about it. If my sleep was really disturbed perhaps I would campaign against the practice, having reaped its benefits. But the reality is that if faced with the same choice later, my decision would likely be the same. Perhaps I could refuse the drug for myself in some circumstances, but I doubt I could do so for a loved one.
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