Killing a novel is easy (authors are a bit trickier, but that’s a theory for another day). Off the top of my head: The Reader, Atonement, The Hours—although this last one I found difficult not to enjoy. You must know what I’m talking about. Films, books: most of the time it’s either one or the other. Exceptions exist, but in general you always end up destroying one, and if I have to choose I’d of course save the book. Reading trumps watching any day (except when they do the reverse and make novels out of movies, in which case the latter wins). What I’m trying to say is: I made a vow to stop my book-killing spree, and so planned to finish reading Never Let Me Go first before watching it.
The book spans the lives of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. Narrated in flashbacks, it begins with Kathy reminiscing about their shared childhood in mysterious Hailsham. Prodded by their meeting together for the first time after many years, she looks back on the rest of their history and tries to make sense of her present in light of the haunting past.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but even as I was reading it another level of my consciousness dissected the craft that went into its creation. Discovery: something poignant permeates Ishiguro’s writing, so subtly that it takes you by surprise. I did not expect to, but I identified so deeply with the characters—tender, innocent, frail as they are—that towards the end I found myself seized by a tremendous hope for their happiness. But there exists so much room for disconnection: in the unsaid, in understandings that turn into misunderstandings, in the expansion of trivialities in place of actual conversation. In Oliver Ortega’s poem “Ilang Sandali Lamang”: “Sabi nila, ang / isa sa pinakamalaking / problema / ang kung paano / sasabihin ang problema. / Kaya nagsimula / tayong maghiwa / ng mansanas / kaysa mag-usap.” We never talk about the most important things. This is tragedy.
A few days ago I promised Angel I’d finish this book soon so I can return it to her and “move on.” Ace teased me about not being able to “let it go,” and though I laughed it off then, I think now that it is true: some part of me will never be able to surrender this.
Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and—no matter how much we despised ourselves for it—unable quite to let each other go.
‘We were right for each other once.’
My heart had done a little leap, because in a single stroke, with that little laugh of agreement, it felt as though Tommy and I had come close together again after all the years.
‘Why would he know? How could he possibly know what Chrissie would have felt? What she would have wanted? It wasn’t him on that table, trying to cling onto life. How would he know?’
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 a time for it, but we’d let that go by…
‘You say you’re sure? Sure that you’re in love? How can you know it? You think love is so simple?’
‘It wasn’t really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.’
And so we stood like that, at the top of that field, for what seemed like ages, not saying anything, just holding each other, while the wind kept blowing and blowing at us, tugging our clothes, and for a moment, it seemed like we were holding onto each other because that was the only way to stop us being swept away into the night.