It’s one thing to read characters in a novel, be touched by them and feel connected to them. But to meet the person who crafted these powerful characters is another thing entirely. Reading is mostly a solitary act. All of your emotions and reactions stay between you and the fictional characters who live on paper. This past week I was able to step out of this space and meet with one of my favourite authors: Kazuo Ishiguro. Readers packed into the Toronto Reference Library for the man who had turned them into loyal supporters of his poetic, compelling prose. Seeing him and listening to him speak about his work took me back in time to the moment when I read Never Let Me Go.
In Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, the control other individuals have over the bodies of the main characters alters the way they perceive themselves in their societies. The issue of the human body being treated as a commodity in current consumer cultures is a salient theme in the text. Through exploitative practices, the characters lose touch with the idea that their bodies are not mere objects that can be disposed of, but rather sacred vessels that contain their very capacity to live.
“Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then, before you’re even middle aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do.”
In Never Let Me Go, there are two realities that exist simultaneously in conflict with one another. The two intertwined lives are those of the clones that are discussed in the text and of the individuals who purchase the body parts. They play different roles that lead to distinct fates. As the main characters’ body parts are harvested, they remain estranged from their own existence and instead become products of the images they associate with individuals in the outside world.
“I began to notice all kinds of other things the veteran couples had taken from TV programmes: the way they gestured to each other, sat together and even the way they argued.”
The clones’ bodies were machines used to manufacture and sustain organs to be harvested as required. This purpose alone defines their existence. As a result of this objectification, the donors continue to live fragmented lives dictated by the anonymous individuals that take away their body parts and consequently their ability to live.
“It was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were; to forget what the guardians had told us … as well as all those theories we’d developed amongst ourselves over the years.”
There are physical and social boundaries that exist upon the human body in the context of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. These limitations have been disregarded by other individuals to the point to which the clones no longer have control of their lives. The main characters in this text (Kathy, Ruth, Tommy) struggle to come to terms with their identities. As clones, they know there is a reason behind their existence, and it is this explanation that they try to escape.
The sense of anticipation as Ishiguro was about to enter the hall on the third floor of the library last week, and the silence while he was speak- ing, are true representations of the power of his work. His stories haunt you long after you finish reading them. They force you to see the world through a brand new lens in which everything — the pain, the injustice and the love in the world — is so clearly presented you can’t deny it exists.