Published 2005 and the film came out in 2010 so forgive slight plot spoiler in this reflection (about content not ending).
What does it mean to be human? If we had to prove that we had souls, what evidence would suffice? Would it be the capacity to appreciate all create art, beauty, poetry? Or would it be a capacity to love?
This story by Kazuo Ishiguro is a slowly unfolding horror story with very little actual horror. Essentially it traces the relationships between three individuals being brought up in what appears, on the surface, to be a boarding school. But this is no ordinary school and these are no ordinary individuals.
If you like action and explicit horror, this book is not for you. You have to be patient whilst the plot unfolds very slowly through tender portraits of each character through painstaking recollection of conversations in which every nuance of every subtle word said (and unsaid) is explored. Ishiguro is a master of the minutiae of communication.
The horror lies in the set up behind the characters lives- a set up we only ever experience from their point of view and with a very limited understanding. The fact that they are clones created for the sole purpose of having their organs harvested to provide queues for “normal” people only becomes obvious very slowly, and is all the more horrifying because of the way it slowly dawned on both of us as a reader and on the characters.
One of the heart breaking moments in the book is the moment when two of the main characters take a scrapbook of art work to be considered by a guardian. Still hoping that this and the fact that they are in love with one another will buy them a deferment of their “don’t nations”.
I won’t reveal to you the outcome of this hope.
This book is worth reading for its exploration of themes such as identity – (how do we know who we are if we’ve never known our parents) belonging, (the importance of the group culture as a substitute for family) and acceptance of our own mortality/fate.
The writer never addresses the complete lack of rebelliousness in his characters but I think he means for us to question the meaning of our own existence, to ask ourselves how we make sense of life in the face of our own mortality.
I have to admit, it’s a bit of a depressing read. I don’t think it comes into the “uplifting” category so possibly not the best holiday book.
But it is a book that will make you think and you will go on thinking About it quite a long time after you finished reading. For me it was the theme of identity which struck me is the most interesting possibly because on the day I finished it I also came across a rendition of a very familiar verse from Isaiah 45
In the NIV it reads ” I am the Lord, the God of Israel , who summons you by name”,
but in the Amplified Bible it reads
” I have called you by your name, I have surnamed you, though you have not known Me”
I love that idea, that however confused about who we are we might be, we belong to the God who created us and we are “surnamed”, the most pivotal part of our identity is that we are a loved child of God.