Brave New World
Kazuo Ishiguro's novel really is chilling.
Finally, the book is also about our wish to do well, to attract approval. The children's poignant desire to be patted on the head—to be a "good carer," keeping those from whom organs are being taken from becoming too distressed; to be a "good donor," someone who makes it through all four "donations"—is heartbreaking. This is what traps them in their cage: None of them thinks about running away or revenging themselves upon the "normal" members of society. Ruth takes refuge in grandiose lies about herself and in daydreams—maybe she'll be allowed to get an office job. Tommy reacts with occasional rage to the unconscionable things being done to him, but then apologizes for his loss of control. In Ishiguro's world, as in our own, most people do what they're told.
Tellingly, two words recur again and again. One, as you might expect, is "normal." The other is "supposed," as in the last words of the book: "wherever it was that I was supposed to be going." Who defines "normal"? Who tells us what we are supposed to be doing? These questions always become more pressing in times of stress; unless I'm much mistaken, they'll loom ever larger in the next few years.
Never Let Me Go is unlikely to be everybody's cup of tea. The people in it aren't heroic. The ending is not comforting. Nevertheless, this is a brilliantly executed book by a master craftsman who has chosen a difficult subject: ourselves, seen through a glass, darkly.
Correction, April 4: This article originally referred to the art work of children in the Treblinka concentration camp. The art in question was in fact produced by the children of the Theresienstadt ghetto. Return to the corrected sentence.
Margaret Atwood is a novelist, poet, and odd-job person. Her latest novels are The Blind Assassin andOryx and Crake; her latest works of nonfiction are Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing andWriting With Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose, 1983-2005.<
Photograph of Kazuo Ishiguro © Touhig Sion/Corbis Sygma.