Friday, June 02, 2006

Various Things (inc. Booker Prize Expt #3)

I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let You Go." Its a strange book, almost terrible, but redeemed by its ending. Science fiction can be a mainstream writer's achilles heel: neither McEwan's "Child in Time" or Amis's "Time's Arrow" (which uses a sci-fi technique I guess) are among their more satisfying work. Ishiguro's previous novel set in an unnamed place, "The Unconsoled" was a stylistic triumph, if not, ultimately that satisfying a novel, and "Never Let You Go" suffers both in comparison to that and his other work. It's probably giving nothing away now to say its about "clones" which information - though not trailed in the book, was trailed in all the publicity. Yet he's made some curious decisions. It takes place in the current time, "the war" it refers to surely the 2nd world war, and in this way its both a parallel world to the one we know, and one that is clearly ours. References to cassette tapes, Walkmans and other things are necessary for the plot, but highlight the difficulty of a world that remains deliberately un-imagined and underwritten. You could get away with this in a short story, but not in a novel. The main characters are seen growing up, first in a mix between public school and children's home; then in remote chalets; before being placed in the homes and hospitals which are their destinies. This cloistered environments are the only way for Ishiguro to give us both the inner lives of his characters - all told in one consistent, but dated voice - and to keep them away from the difficulties of the real world. Had he set it in the future there would have been a whole different set of imaginative problems; by setting it in post-war England leading up to the present, he can attempt to give his character's a "normal" life. They are normal children then normal adults. They are allowed - even encouraged - to have sex but cannot be allowed to form relationships. The novel is repetitive, boring, and annoying, yet, the clear aim is to humanise the characters, and in this, I think, he succeeds, so that at the end of the book, he has created a very genuine sense of sympathy. The "care" he always has shown for his characters in previous books is still here. He's always the most humane of writers, and this novel would have made a powerful short, or novella. Yet at length its contradictions, and the choices that he makes, seem to be lifted from the fifties sci-fi of a writer like John Wyndham, without any updating. Covering the same subject in "Cloud Atlas" David Mitchell achieves so much more, does it so much better, but without managing the same empathy. So this is, in the end, a mediocre book, with a good heart. Seems that the Bank Holiday gave everyone time to ruminate on Robert McCrum's article last week in the Observer. I can't really get worked up about it either way - because since then I've been busy with the story I talked about in my last post. I've spent the morning taking it apart, and putting it back together, and hopefully its a lot sharper in the new version, though I'm pleased that the story itself required little change, just the bagginess of the writing in my first-cut.

No comments: