Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Quality of Life--for Clones

I read Ishiguro's novel Remains of the  Day long ago, but I am still struck by the subtlety of the book, much of which Anthony Hopkins was able to convey wordlessly in the film version.  I recently read another of his  novels--one he published in 2006--Never Let Me Go, and I wonder whether, had I not known the books shared the same author, if I would have considered Ishiguro a likely candidate?

Though this novel might be classified science fiction, the characters were so fully human that I would not have suspected they were actually clones if I had not been told.  The world in which Cathy H. and her fellow "students" (the name preferred for clones by their "guardians") live is sometime in present day or recent England.  Kathy H., the narrator, is a "carer" in her thirties as she tells the story of her life, beginning with her years at Hailsham, an exclusive school for clones.  The life she describes could have been that of any teenagers raised in a boarding school.  Only gradually do readers realize the students are unusual in that they are clones, bred and raised eventually to become organ donors. 

Because this is the only life they have known and because they are given information about themselves often before they are mature enough to process it, they alternate between blind acceptance and curious scrutiny of their futures and their personal situations. 

Because the plot does not deal with the actual science behind their creation or their donation, it is mainly a character-driven tale, with a narrator who reveals more about herself that she seems to realize.  The relationship triangle involves Kathy H., her best friend Ruth, a controlling, manipulative queen bee, and Tommy, a boy first bullied because of his temper and lack of creativity who eventually becomes Ruth's boyfriend, even though readers recognize early on that he and Kathy H. are much better suited.

What strikes me most, looking back at the story, are the implications about quality of life.  Kathy and Tommy eventually track down two adults that played important roles in their life at Hailsham and learn that their time at Hailsham was part of an experiment, exposing students to meaningful lives of art, music and literature, before their inevitable deaths.  They learn that most of their clone peers in other situations are raised in squalor, more like farm animals or lab monkeys that esteemed individuals.

While some seem to imply the students were duped into creativity and lulled into complacency about their inevitable future, I wonder if the dominant lesson is that since everyone is filling time between birth and death, shouldn't the time be marked meaningfully?  Even after graduation, before they become "carers" for donors before becoming donors themselves, Kathy and her fellow residents are granted time to read and to write.  They have some access, though limited, to the outside world. They even choose to spend some of that time searching for or speculating about "possibles"--the source of their original DNA makeup--not unusual for any humans with  unanswered questions about our origins and our eventual destinations.

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