So the entire month of April went by and I never reviewed our March Be Your Own Book Club pick, Never Let Me Go. This is not just because I wasn't a huge fan of the book (my writing priorities were elsewhere) but I definitely didn't have a fire under me to share my thoughts. Let's discuss.
Basic Plot Overview: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are all students at a boarding school in England. The first half of the book explores their relationships as adolescents and then teenagers, and the second half goes into the pain and uncertainty of their adult lives. All three children are clones who are being raised as organ donors, and before they reach their 30s, they will all die from complications of their donations.
I really liked the beginning of this book. Throughout the description of the school days, told from the point of view of Kathy, there is a lot of exploration of the weird psychology of friendships, the mob mentality of groups of friends, and the unspoken rules of who's "in" and who's "out." I found this sobering but important, as it isn't really something I've seen overtly discussed in this style before. Kathy and Ruth have this strange back and forth where they are constantly trying to catch each other messing up and expose each other, but then either feel terribly guilty or try and comfort their friend as soon as they succeed in making them feel crappy. I've seen this happen, and in some twisted relationships, it doesn't disappear with adulthood.
"Now I saw how upset Ruth was; how for once she was at a complete loss for words, and had turned away on the verge of tears. And suddenly my behavior to me seemed completely baffling. All this effort, all this planning, just to upset my dearest friend...Now I felt awful, and I was confused." -Kathy
This pattern of getting one over on Ruth, then feeling awful about it, is repeated for the majority of the book. Ruth gives as well as she gets, and they take turns either sleeping with or completely humiliating Tommy the whole time, as well
"Do you think she would have talked to us that way if she'd known what we really were? What do you think she'd have said if we'd asked her? 'Excuse me, but do you think your friend was ever a clone model?' She'd have thrown us out. We know it, so we might as well just say it. If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter." -Ruth
Above is probably the most impassioned line of the entire book. I imagine that every other line of dialogue is kind of quietly sighed.
The subplot (it felt like a subplot) of the whole you're-only-alive-cause-we-need-your-kidneys thing was subtle and strange. At no point is this revelation made with any kind of fanfare; soon the characters are just talking openly about it and then you realize that you always kind of knew that's what was going to happen. It's pretty clever, actually, because that's the exact mental journey that the characters take themselves. They're told about the "donations" and how eventually they'll "complete" from the time they're born. It's just that they don't realize the actual gravity of their situation until they're in it.
I expected more of a gasping revelation, but it was never that way in this book. I think it's because they whole thing is told from Kathy's memory, and she's very quiet and tired and accepting that this is her life. She wonders if maybe it's possible to change it, but doesn't push all too hard at the edges. Never Let Me Go is not about anyone challenging the system.
How did you guys feel? It's nothing I would particularly recommend or read again, but I'm glad I checked it out, and I enjoyed the description of boarding school life. It reminded me a bit of A Secret History by Donna Tart. Who was your favorite character? At what point did you realize these kids were organ donors? Have you ever had a Ruth in your life?
To save time and keep momentum, I'm going to announce our May selection right here, right now: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This is an adult fiction, post-apocalyptic novel with lots of flashbacks to Before and Hollywood theme. I would be so happy if you read along with us!
Thanks for being a book club with me. Remember: read it or don't, drop out when you need to, and express any damn opinion you have. Zero commitment, zero pressure. BE YOUR OWN BOOK CLUB!