#10: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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They say that most novelists end up writing the same book over and over again: a truth which manifests itself differently in the work of different novelists. In the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro, it takes the form of an incredibly elegant formal unity.

Never Let Me Go, like The Remains of the Day and, to a lesser extent, When We Were Orphans, is a mystery in which a Martian-like, yet strangely affecting first-person narrator (a young female clone, an aging butler, a middle-aged celebrity detective) deciphers the dimly sensed evil (human organ-harvesting, Nazi collaboration, a family crime) underlying an idyllic quintessentially English institution (a beautiful manor house, a posh boarding school, the British colony in Shanghai). Despite the radically different settings, all the three novels share the same key formal elements: a painstakingly unraveled historical mystery, constructed on the time scale of a single human life; a journey to track down characters from the past who have survived, inconceivably, into the present; an unhappy love story; the haunting sense of a decayed idyll that remains, despite its historical rottenness, the locus of all the most beautiful and meaningful impressions in somebody’s life.

In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro brilliantly and heartbreakingly executes the same retrospective plot in the unlikely chronotope of science fiction. This book made me cry for days. Did I feel a little bit exploited—did I feel that sci-fi rule-bending had been used to construct an otherwise inconceivably tragic story of doomed young love? I did, but it was worth it.

Read an excerpt from Never Let Me Go.
The Lion, The Witch and Ishiguro
Krin Gabbard on Never Let Me Go
More Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far)
Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers

A Year in Reading: Elif Batuman


Elif Batuman’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and n+1. She recently completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Stanford, and is the recipient of a 2007 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Foundation award. You can learn more about Elif by visiting her blog or her website.I spent the first 9 months of 2007 finishing a dissertation in comparative literature, which really cut into my reading. By the end of the dissertation, you’re not really reading anymore, just re-reading and watching TV (or at least this was my experience). The notable exception for me was the Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which I read for the first time in February. I was amazed to discover that, as a young man, Ignatius dreamed of imitating Amadís of Gaul – the same knight errant later imitated by Don Quijote. Ignatius’s conversion then takes the form of switching exemplars, from Amadis to Jesus. What a rich and well-executed premise!While researching the dissertation, I also came across an enormously entertaining diet book: What Would Jesus Eat?: The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer, by Don Colbert. Colbert instructs the modern-day reader how to eat like Christ, basing his advice now on textual evidence (“I believe that fish and bread were two of the main foods in His diet”), now on historical data (“In the time of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jordan river were major sources of fish”), and sometimes on what appears to be intuition (“Jesus very likely consumed extra virgin olive oil on a daily basis”). A companion volume, The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook, includes recipes ranging from “frozen banana salad” and “Asian coleslaw,” to “milk and honey bread” and “matzoh balls with olive sauce.”From my 2007 extracurricular reading, the stand-outs are, for surprisingness, Roberto Bolano’s Savage Detectives, and, for enjoyableness, two “graphic novels”: Alison Bechdel’s exciting and formally inventive memoir, Fun Home (“fun” is short for “funeral”), and Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds (a missing-person/love-story hybrid – one of my favorite genres – set in modern day Israel).More from A Year in Reading 2007