I went through a period of reading nothing but non fiction in the late eighties, due in no small part to the enormous amount of research that went into my dissertation, which looked at the parallel careers of Karl Marx and the Anarchist Philosopher Michael Bakunin and formed part of my “Political Education” as a member of the Trot influenced Militant Tendency.
In addition my fiction diet had been resolutely non British and “Radical” due to the influence of young Lefty teachers at school.
Thus I had read Camus, Satre and Colette in French as part of my A Level course, plus a variety of Irish classics from Joyce, Wilde and Sean O’Casey. I was a right bundle of laughs.
Aren’t you meant to be out shop lifting and sniffing glue at that age?
The idea of contemporary fiction had completely passed me by until in late 1989 someone passed me a copy of “The Remains of the Day”, by Kazuo Ishiguro and it literally changed my attitude to reading and what you can get out of it, and as a result I scour the book reviews in the New Statesman and the Guardian with excitement for new fiction and I believe we are having a British Literary Golden Age over the last 15 or so years.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s ability to marry and intertwine character, plot and the subtleties of the human condition are just breath taking and this book remains (ha) my all time favourite book of all time (as Smashie and Nicey would say if they were hosting the Booker… now there’s a thought).
I think it’s Ishiguro’s spare use of the language that makes him a great writer. It’s stripped down and just gets on with storytelling in a human and accessible way, and you can empathise with the narrator of the story as there is no pompous verbosity or verbal quiddites, he just gets on with it.
The subject matter and setting you would imagine to be daunting, the relationships “below stairs” in a Thirties aristocratic household where the rise of the Nazis is viewed with some sympathy, but the author’s prime asset is used to convey the narrative; an ability to get you to understand what makes the characters tick by what they don’t say or do, an extraordinary talent. It’s the asides, the reactions of the people that drive the story.
“Never Let Me Go” is the third book I’ve read by this writer, the other being the extraordinarily moving “When We Were Orphans”, which showcases Ishiguro’s way of introducing raw human emotion into a story with stunning understatement a trait that is also deployed in this later novel.
The story is narrated by a woman which is a tough ask for a male writer and one that saw Roddy Doyle (“The Woman Who Walked into Doors”) and Nick Hornby (“How to be Good”) come an enormous cropper due to the fact that they made the fact that it was a woman the main driving force behind the narrative, and did it appallingly badly. Patronising doesn’t even start to describe it, whereas in this book the fact Kathy is a woman is important but not the key to her character.
The following themes are covered in the book and I can reveal there is a stunning plotline running through the novel which Ishiguro strings right till the end. We suspect but you aren’t sure and it’s a bit like peeling an onion;the nature of institutionalisation, child rearing, education as and end rather than the means, medical ethics, the nature and role of the Government in the development of Society, nature v nurture, love, sex as a biological imperative or an expression of love.
Aldous Huxley meets Thomas Hardy. I kid you not.