Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reality trumps fiction

When my book circle discussed Never Let me Go there was some discussion about whether the scenario imagined by the author would be tolerated in our "progressive" society. One of our members had the rosy view that no, we, our society, would never contemplate such a donor class. I think I mentioned at the time that it was already happening in China where prisoners' organs were being "harvested" but my argument I think was discounted because after all that was China not "The West". Well, here is a story from the Netherlands ( often touted I believe as being very progressive) about a reality show where people are competing to be the recipient of a donor organ. Only a hop, step and a jump from there to Ishiguro's vision.

I think that organ donation and other "practices" such as abortion and euthanasia are ones that can be easily rationalized in a society where pressures (whether governmental or societal) are exerted beyond individual conscience. And we live in an increasingly pressurized mono- culture where our thoughts and opinions are subtley shaped by our media. We know we are being manipulated but we rarely resist it as we should. It feels so comfortable, even peasurable.

But one reviewer (in the Guardian) thinks Isiguro's book isn't about the cloning or the donor issue at all but about something else. I think perhaps it was both. I have to share these wonderful insights:

Ishiguro's contribution to the cloning debate turns out to be sleight of hand, eye candy, cover for his pathological need to be subtle. So what is Never Let Me Go really about? It's about the steady erosion of hope. It's about repressing what you know, which is that in this life people fail one another, grow old and fall to pieces. It's about knowing that while you must keep calm, keeping calm won't change a thing. ...

This extraordinary and, in the end, rather frighteningly clever novel isn't about cloning, or being a clone, at all. It's about why we don't explode, why we don't just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been.


mamie said...

Yes, how can we - "go on" that is? How can we go on knowing that we have not lived up to our potential, that we haven't really done anything 'great'? And not only that, but knowing that we will all grow old, that we will all come to the same end anyway no matter whether we do or don't? "Is that all there is to the circus? is that all there is?"

canary said...

Who was it who said we lead lives of quiet desperation?
Thoreau in Walden. I just looked it up. The full quote is -
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
I didn't recognise this theme in Never Let Me Go so the Guardian review really added to my appreciation of the book. I did see this idea in The remains of the Day which was so full of regret and "what might have been" and also that resignation to one's place in the world however flawed.
This quiet desperation has a certain dignity to it though. Or is it just cowardice?

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)