[Spoilers: I briefly discuss the main theme/issue of the book, which touches on a revelation, although I do not discuss the revelation itself. If you are very clever, you might be able to guess what it might be, although it probably won’t ruin the book for you. I knew the revelation before I started reading and still thoroughly enjoyed it. A majority of the book’s value is in character development rather than plot twists.]
I was surprised at first to find the novel set in a green, dreamy England. After all, with a name like the author’s, wouldn’t I assume it would remind me more of Japan?
But Kazuo Ishiguro is a British author. Japanese born, but also so thoroughly British that through him I can perfectly picture Hailsham, the school where much of the novel’s action is set. I can’t quite tell if it’s due to my own education in England, or just Ishiguro’s talent for making me feel as if it’s a familiar and intimate setting, but either way, it feels like I have been there.
It might seem like an odd setting for a speculative fiction novel, and not entirely clear why it should be considered so at first. We follow the day to day life of a schoolgirl, Kathy, and her friends. The narrative is slow in a sort of luxurious way, filled with details about the characters’ inner lives and the way they interact with each other. It can focus on the smallest details sometimes, for example, the way a certain character smiled: was it an act of shared recognition, or something else? It all serves to build an empathetic and thorough picture of these characters. We’re left in no doubt as to the full lives they lead, and their humanity.
Their humanity, though, is something that sets them apart from the rest of the world. They attend an isolated boarding school, and visitors from the outside treat them with caution. Their teachers behave strangely sometimes, giving them cryptic information about their lives and their purpose. They know they are different to the people who live on the outside, but how?
It’s warm and touching at times, but arrives at many bittersweet conclusions. It left me with a feeling of unrequitedness, and the desire to think more about the wider world implied in the story. There is an important ethical question at its heart, but the author gives us no help in solving it. Is there any easy answer for the way things are?
If you are a speculative fiction fan, try it for something utterly different to the usual fare. Read it just to see how rich and personal the genre can be.