Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review | Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

It’s strange now, to think that I pulled through Never Let Me Go (the film) even though my instincts were screaming at me that something was amiss. Really, there should be a rule that mandates audiences read the book before watching the movie. In this case, to read the book and forget that the movie ever existed!

Kazuo Ishiguro’s words weave a beautifully damned world where people are cloned to become organ donors. These people have always known that this is the purpose of their existence. But they have been conditioned in many ways not to question their fate. And why would they? As with any dystopian world, they’re subjected to propaganda, though, unlike Orwell’s1984, those in charge of this world do not make mistakes in or constantly change the way the information they feed their people.

Never Let Me Go is a wonderful read. Indeed, you’re only as disturbed as you want to be.

Sure the narrative, told entirely from Kathy’s perspective, is a bit limited. You have to wonder why it is that everyone seems to have very distinct flaws whereas she doesn’t. There’s Tommy with his temper and imaginary animals. And Ruth who will say and do anything to get people to like her. It would seem that Kathy is the most honest and self-conscious character, with her ability to admit when she’s wrong in a fight with Ruth, or with her shame when she’s called out for making fun of Tommy’s artwork.

But this somehow makes the book even more interesting, especially for book clubs, constantly looking for things upon which to disagree. It would have made an even better text among the recommended reads of my literature syllabus.

As for the movie, it does Ishiguro’s imagination a grave disservice by making the plot about love and loss rather then the nature of reality in which the characters live.

First off: Ishiguro does not dwell on appearances… at all! In fact, it’s very rare of find a character’s looks described in the book. For example, we never learn whether Kathy, is actually blonde or tall or thin. We don’t learn either, whether Ruth is dark haired and hotter than Kathy. We’re also never told of Tommy sex appeal considering he manages to snag both ladies, at different points during their lives played out in the book, when all we have to go on is that he used to be a complete brat until one day he just wasn’t.

Ok, so there is one instance when a character named Chrissy is described as tall and attractive but doesn’t look “like a movie star” because she wears glasses and hunches. But that’s about it. I think the movie failed the book the minute they decided to lack imagination with the race and ethnic origins of the main characters, especially given that the author is of Japanese origin.

I also didn’t appreciate that the movie made itself out to be a gut-wrenching tale of lovers torn apart by a seriously insecure and selfish girl. Having read the book you see that Ruth, though both of things, is really driven by the fear of being alone, which actually makes her pitiful rather than a conniving vixen.

Even the part where Kathy, alone in her dormitory, pretends a pillow is her baby (need to read the book to know that because the movie plays this out quite badly) is muddled up in the film. In the book, it is Madame, the elusive and authoritative figure who fascinates the children, who is seen crying as Kathy dances to Never Let Me Go by fictitious singer Judy Bridgewater. But in the movie, it’s Ruth who’s portrayed to be spying on her moment of privacy. This in itself, changes so many things that it’s no wonder you come out confused.

It shouldn’t have to be 'The Movie' vs 'The Book'. But it’s ever so rare to find a book that’s better than the movie. Indeed, it’s easier watching the movie and then going back to the book imaging the characters as the actors who played them. But it’s more important to read a text as its creator imagined it rather than a soup of scriptwriters, directors, producers and whatnot who re-imagine it.

Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is one of those books and with its timelessness, you’d do well to add it to your collection and forget that the movie ever existed.

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Buy Never Let Me Go from Amazon.com

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