Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Two novels by Ishiguro

Ishiguro novels seem to have a thing about the past. The two that I've read, When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go, are both written from a point in the future, looking back at what's past. And if Ishiguro didn't know how to hold a story so well, they might be as dull as I've made them sound. He takes something familiar, something everyone has read before, and twists it a little bit to bring reality in. In Never Let Me Go it's clones. Created for organ donations and hidden away in boarding schools. The idea is taken straight out of science-fiction but here it's a placed in a real setting - late 90s England - where their existence seems more difficult. The book is completely uncluttered by science or explanation, it's just about the people. For large sections it'll seem like a story about school, or about 'university', but then they mention their donations. It's all bit sinister. These characters are human, and that's the most troubling thing. After all the childhood games and the (slightly annoying) teenage politics, they're just slabs of meat to be sold off. Their deaths are unceremonious and understated, because that's what they were there for in the first place.

And the detective of When We Were Orphans writes from inside his own fantasies. He's convinced that his parents, who were abducted in Shanghai when he was young, are still being held captive twenty years later. They're clearly not, but he plays out the detective game until it breaks. He's stuck as a ten year old - the entire profession of 'detecting' is a way of delaying adult reality and responsibilty. The language is a lot posher, more adapted to the boring London society. It's rare for a writer to almost completely change their style from book to book. Ishiguro chooses a voice and goes with it, keeping himself in the background. It's not an easy thing to do. But if there's a link between the two, it's that both see childhood as formative and inescapable. It completely makes up who these characters are. Only now it's become a collection of memories that they have to decipher one by one. It has become a story that they have to tell themselves. In other words, it's a big pile of literary stuff that Ishiguro can write pages and pages about and still leave things untold. That's enough for now, but I might read more one day.


  1. Thanks for the reminder - I need to read Never Let Me Go, worth a read?

  2. Definitely. I might prefer When We Were Orphans, but then I've always been strange.