The plot of Never let me go is eviscerated in a rather exhaustive way on the back cover, which I allow myself to copy here evenly in order to immediately get to the point. In my edition, translator Paola Novarese introduces us to the novel as follows.
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth live in a boarding school, Hailsham, nestled in the English countryside. They do not have parents, but they are not even orphans, and they grow up with their companions, cared for by a group of tutors, who also take care of their education. From a very young age a great friendship was born between the three children. Their life, desired and programmed by a hidden superior authority, will be accompanied by the music of feelings, from the warmest intimacy to the most violent detachment. One of the managers of the school, who the children simply call Madame, behaves strangely with the little ones. Also, other tutors sometimes experience excessive reactions when children ask seemingly simple questions. What will become of them in the future? What do the words “donor” and “assistant” mean? And why are their drawings and poems so important to be collected by Madame? Never let me go is first of all a great love story. It is also a political and visionary novel, where an upside down utopia is staged and we would never want to see it realized”.
A very simple story. Maybe that’s exactly why it’s so disarming.
I don’t like to reveal too many details of my daily life: not because I am jealous of my days (in the end, the routine is always the same and not particularly interesting), but because I believe that those who come here want to read comments on book, not personal diaries. In this case, however, I think it is necessary to make a short digression – to understand in what state, or mood, I started reading this book, and why I appreciated it so much.
My surprising ability to isolate myself from the world, as if I were living in a corked bottle (do you know those glass bottles with ship miniatures inside?), allowed me to not know of the existence of Kazuo Ishiguro until January of this year. At that time, I briefly returned to Italy, and I came into possession of this little gem almost by accident, but for various reasons I could not start it until September.
In late February, a friend I spent time with while studying in Japan disappeared in a totally unexpected way. Thus passed days of uncertainties, theories, recurring nightmares, hope, infinite phone calls around the world and nights spent reading Swedish newspapers from top to bottom, without obtaining a single useful information. He was only found in May, and I knew he passed away in a terrifying way that still haunts me today. I don’t think anyone in our old gang knows much about it, and just because they can’t read Swedish (I read so many newspaper that I started recognizing words, sentences, and then almost full articles). Time and distance led us apart and we weren’t particularly close anymore, but I have very pleasant memories of that time and that person. So I try to repress my mood by flogging myself with a sense of poisonous guilt, as if I was deliberately seizing the pain of people who, compared to me, certainly have more right to live, feel and express it.
Thus, here we come to Never let me go. And no, not for what you can imagine from the title, which at the beginning I considered simply melancholic and sickening.
It was the theme of the inevitability of time that left me a profound wound. The fate of the characters is already written, the time available is shortening like a fuse. I persisted in refusing such a terrible thing like the passing of my friend, and I started to think with even more attention on something that I like to call the shortlist of missed opportunities. More or less it works this way, and I think everyone has experienced it at least once: “if only that day I had asked that one more question”, “if only I cared more”, “if only I did what I could do when I still had the chance”.
“So that feeling came again, even though I tried to keep it out: that we were doing all of this too late; that there’d once been time for it, but we’d let that go by, and there was something ridiculous, reprehensible even, about the way we were now thinking and planning”.
We cannot properly say that this inevitability of time “overwhelms” the characters of Never let me go, since they appear at the same time a little resigned, a little prepared for the future that awaits them. Kathy’s first-person voice recalls the years in Hailsham with the nostalgia of an adult who caresses the light-heartedness of childhood. The story itself is told in a very simple way, with the levity of those who actually live in that reality: and so it is quite natural to grow in a school, whose daily life is punctuated by events such as the Barter and the Great Charm, names as simple as evocative which contain the innocence and magic typical of children’s world. Just as it is perfectly natural to become assistants, and finally donors. Donors of what, we wonders, from the first pages: it is when the word operation appears for the first time that the shadow of a doubt begins to creep in, too distressing to be expressed aloud. A subtle sense of horror pervades the following pages, subtle because mitigated by the lightness of Kathy’s voice. With an infinite tranquility, the most sordid sides of the world are eviscerated, together with the impotence that derives from a destiny that is already written.
“You have been taught. You are students. You are… special. Caring for yourself, keeping yourself healthy, is much more important to each of you than it is to someone like me”.
I haven’t read other works by Ishiguro, but the first impression was profound. Not strong, profound: I finished the book, and I had to remain silent and quiet to digest what I had just read. He skilfully touched strings that I didn’t think could vibrate with such resonance. It is not death that frightens, but the regret of those who remain.
Einaudi, Super ET
Italian translation by Paola Novarese
2016 (I ed. 2005), pp. 291
Overall impression: ★★★★★