The pandemic came, went and returns like blips on a hospital monitor. New sub-pandemics pluck the strings of fear and comfort because life can no longer be on autopilot for anyone. Stripped of lifestyle accoutrement—the gym, dinners, movies, travel and shopping, people struggled and crafted smaller joys and tried to fill up their lives with them while drowning in domestic duties, and/or work, and/or family life. To some degree we all have made it through scars, fears, prescriptions and all. Then your kid gets into college and thus begins the ardent task of letting them go. Oh what a task this is…
My soon-to-be-first-year-attending-collegiate likes to shop with me for books which is one of the only things we don’t argue about when it comes to shopping. Our teenager who now embraces adulthood and rubs our noses in it at every self-serving turn, suggested that she and I read and discuss a book together before she jets away from home base.
For us my daughter chose an author who she read with her AP Great Books teacher and once we were up and running began dragging her feet. To be honest, I was too—not because I dreaded the reminder that soon I had to let her go, but because I simply am not wowed by Kazuo Ishiguro who’s books are of a moment and not one that I’m really in (truthfully, I am struggling with letting her go). Nonetheless, I persisted in reading and being the competitive intellectual that she is, she did too.
We took turns reading, not discussing (not for not trying on my part). My daughter is laser focused when she reads and she devours books. I savor too many aspects of writing— I read and consider every word, every paragraph, and every page which causes me to be a slow moving reader. There were casual updates between us and as we approached the last part of the book we agreed to have a formal discussion during a city day that included bookstores, restaurant, vintage shopping and me indulging in my secret passion—street photography.
WHAT’S THE BOOK ABOUT?
NEVER LET ME GO refers to a song mentioned the book that expresses a mother’s unconditional love for her baby. This song is stuck in a character’s memory and is tied to a moment when she was singing and pretending that she was expressing this love to a baby she knew she’d never have. Readers meet Kath who becomes your narrator and protagonist. You can decide how reliable Kath is or if modernity even allows for honesty or reliability when we all know too much about too much.
This very intense moment was witnessed by a caregiver at an orphanage in which children were raised without nurturing in an academically enriched environment that might produce healthier humans for the purpose of harvesting their organs and extending life for an unknown person to whom they were assigned. During the narrative, readers watch characters grow up and move onto to the next predetermined stage of life. Some characters began organ donations right away, and others were absorbed into the social fabric by way of function in society or profession. No overlord is ever confronted, and for the most part people blindly go about life and love discovered albeit too late continues to be a worthy but fleeting champion.
This book is about manipulation, the fight for life and love in a society that no longer values human life. The settings are uniquely described and the pacing is moderate. The tone Ishiguro uses is emotionally neutral and death is something that just happens. Readers become aware of their desire to care about characters and people they don’t know, but is it even enough to manifest change?
Likely, both of us would have enjoyed this book when it was originally published and made the splash that has generated all the Goodreads raves. Maybe if it we read it not coming off of a pandemic, insurrection, war on Ukraine, wack-a-mole destructions toward democracies elsewhere, inflation, female body takeovers and all the other things that make me feel like I’m living in a toggle between the 1970s and 1990s I’d like it better. Reading this made me feel like I went for Botox (I have not) and the needle got stuck in my third eye leaving me stuck in a strange neutral thirsting for love and connection. Thankfully, I have these things with my little family which is perfect just for me and I hope them too..
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. -Carl Sandburg