Never Let Me Go

As a reader, I was transported to another time and place that was both strange and familiar, with each turn of the page, I was more deeply entwined in this brave new world and its compelling characters. It’s just a damn good story.

Because this was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the novel is a masterclass in writing. First, it proves that genre is determined by the writer’s treatment of the subject, not the subject itself. This is a novel about clones being farmed for body parts in a dystopian version of Britian, which, in the hands of another writer, might have veered into Dean Koontz territory, but though there is horror here, it is of a very human and recognizable kind-which makes it all the more terrifying.

I was also amazed (and not a little jealous) at Ishiguro’s masterful structure. Through the first pages, the reader isn’t quite certain what’s going on, only that this world is both familiar and strange. The author takes his time in revealing the hard truths, so that the reader discovers the truth much as the narrator Kathy H. and her fellow clones do. Form reflects both theme and plot.

Words are chosen with the precision and sensitively of a poet, rich with double meaning and subtle connotation. At one point, awkward Tommy is said to be standing around “like a spare part,” which is exactly what he is–body parts to be harvested.

Ishiguro’s narrative control is tight and flawless. Kathy H. tells her story, but the power of the narrative is in what lies beneath her words, a truth that she herself senses, but doesn’t fully realize, perhaps because the truth is just too hard.

Which leads to my final point.

At the novel’s conclusion, the reader is heartbroken for Kathy who, because of Ruth’s machinations, was cheated of precious time with Tommy, her true love. At the novel’s conclusion and shortly after Tommy completed–a brilliant euphemism for murder, isn’t it?–she drives to an isolated spot in Norfolk. Far from an idyllic, the area is littered with rubbish, which Kathy imagines as everything she’d lost in her childhood. Tears stream down her face (and the reader’s as well) but she gains control and gets back in her car to “drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”

This is heartbreaking. and the sympathy the reader feels for Kathy obscures some darker realities. To get to these darker realities, it’s necessary to go back to the opening paragraph in which Kathy relates that she’s been a carer for eleven years, a lengthy amount of time.

Although she claims she’s not bragging, the reader shouldn’t be misled. If it sounds like a duck, it is a duck, and Kathy is humbly proud of her work as a donor, citing the decreased recovery time of her donors and “hardly any of them have been classified as agitated.” No doubt, she’s provided a valuable service for the powers-that-be, a kapo to keep the queue running smoothly. Once she becomes a donor, will she face this unpleasant truth about herself?

Personally, I doubt it. We humans are gifted in self-deception.
Finally, there’s the question as to why Hailsham–which attempted to raise the clones in a humane and cultured environment–was closed down, even though it was evidently successful in producing compliant clones such as Kathy and her friends. So why shut it down?

Maybe because in such an environment the clones appeared too human for comfort. To preserve the fatal facade of otherness, the group must viewed by the society as non-humans or even creatures. This, of course, requires a bit of social engineering, but it’s done all the time, and with great success.

How many times have you heard someone comment about “those people,” who just don’t feel the way we do. You see, most of us aren’t saints, succumbing all too easily to the demons in our natures, and ignore the angels, especially when such the practice helps the bottom line.

It’s not a pretty view of humanity, but an honest one.

Thirteen Steps Down

For me, Ruth Rendell understood obsession better than most. On the surface, obsession appears other-directed in that the pursuer focuses exclusively on the chosen object of his–or her–affection. In this novel, Rendell deftly illustrates that at its heart, obsession is utterly selfish.

Trouble brews when deranged spinster Gwendolyn Chawcer, who makes Miss Havisham a model of mental stability, rents a room of her dilapidated house to Mix Cellini, an equally deranged young man who maintains exercise equipment for a living.

Although it’s hard to imagine two more disparate characters, the two are matching bookends, both ruled by obsession. Poor Miss Chawcer reconstructs the past so that a casual relationship with a doctor decades earlier becomes a great love affair in her fertile imagination. When she learns the doctor is a recent widower, she schemes to revive the “affair.”

For his part, Mix is no slouch. In addition to feeding his deep-seated fixation with a famous serial killer named Christie, he also finds time to stalk a supermodel, who, he is certain, is secretly in love with him.

None of this bodes well, and the situation is made worse by the clueless main characters: Miss Chawcer is more than a few fries short of a Happy Meal and Mix is no Moriarty. In fact, I was tempted to read this novel as a black comedy, with Chawcer and Mix as stand-ins for Abbott and Costello, though without the latter’s quick wit.

Rendell doesn’t disappoint and provides the usual psychological twists and turns, and both the old spinster and Mix come to an end, though hardly a good one.



The Veiled One

In The Veiled One by Ruth Rendell, Chief Inspector Wexford and his longtime assistant Inspector Mike Burden investigate the murder of an older woman found strangled (or garroted) to death in a drab parking garage. Although Rendell demonstrates her usual mastery of psychology, both normal and abnormal, the plot creaks from the contrivances the writer forces on it. Simply put, too much happens by coincidence, which, in part, necessitates a long-winded denouement.

Early on, Wexford is removed from the investigation, bringing Burden front and center. Perhaps overly eager to prove his worth, Burden’s prime suspect–actually his only suspect–is Clifford Sanders, a sad, obviously disturbed young man with the mother from hell. Burden pursues his quarry with a dogged enthusiasm that Inspector Javert might have envied. Again and again, Burden interrogates the young man for hours on end, certain that with the next interrogation, he’ll finally confess. But somewhere along the way, their roles are reversed, with surprising and tragic consequences.

So despite its structural problems, the novel is worth reading, if only for those luscious scenes between Burden and Clifford.

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