Even I am a bit surprised by the clip I've been moving through books; this is the fifth book I've read this month, which is only half over. I credit this to a.) choosing books that are short or easy to read, and b.) having a lot of dead time recently in the form of plane and car rides, and jury duty. In short, it's a combination of luck, effort, and strategy, none of which describe Brent's efforts to read War and Peace, the poor schmuck.
Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day, the story of a butler dealing in his old age with the fact that his employer during World War II had been a Nazi sympathizer. Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and appears on the Time list, but it's a completely different kind of book: a science fiction tale about cloning and organ farming.
It follows the lives of three youths, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who are clones who will one day become "donors," which basically means their bodies will be harvested for their organs. Never Let Me Go is short on the details of this process, but it's not the kind of book that's interested in minute scientific details, only broad concepts and the way they affect the minutiae of human life. It is perfect in its scope, realizing that the most genuine way to analyze the social effects of its particular vision of the future is not through sweeping narratives about the history and development of the cloning culture, but through the everyday accounts of three people who wholly inhabit it. At first it is unclear how much the three and their friends, who reside at a private home for future donors, understand about the process, but as the details become clearer there is a surprisingly small amount of resistance to the program. The donors do not protest their lives, which must inevitably end in their 20's or 30's after they have "completed" their organ donations, because they are the only lives to know. It is almost as if it never occurs to them to protest--strange to say, but how true is this in our own lives? The clones live together throughout their adolescence, isolated; they know no other life.
A lesser author might have turned Never Let Me Go into a novel that beats you over the head with the "big picture." But at its heart it is about friendships, crushes, petty arguments, because it is about people and not concepts. The characters only consider questions like "what does it mean to be human?" in the periphery of their minds, as we all tend to do. Because of all this it is all the more powerful when, in the book's final chapters, Kathy and Tommy learn that in truth most outsiders have always reviled the clones and considered them something less than human, because Ishiguro paints his characters with all the creativity, pettiness, and inconsistency that we've come to expect from human beings.