June 29, 2005

Cloning Around!

I'm late! And I'm so sorry! And to top it all off I haven't finished the book. I've got about a 100 pages to go, and I promise I will be back to chat.

To get things started though, I wanted to list some of the links I found:

Random House author interview.

Salon review.

Powell's interview.

NPR Interview with Ishiguro.

CBC article.

The Simon Review.

Village Voice review.

Ugh! I wish he wasn't revealing everything so slowly! I read a lot of the reviews before I started the book, so I knew the main premise before hand. A conscious decision on my part.

So far, it's okay for me. I don't think Kathy's as detached as I thought she would be as a narrator, but I find it annoying that she seems to keep repeating herself a lot - I think this is because Ishiguro jumps around timewise.

I'd like more details that they DO know about in their lives, as opposed to what seems like a lot of speculation. I want more descriptions of their projects. I can't seem to see them in my mind at all and I think they would be a very nice emotional clue to what is going on in their heads.

Given their situation and how in the dark they are, their relationships seem very typical to me. It's funny - Kathy figures out that the couples are acting like they've seen on TV, but how different is that from what "regular" teenagers see and copy? It got me wondering how much we learn from the media, as opposed to the people we see in front of us everyday. Maybe we're too close to, say, our parents? Or maybe it's kind of an osmosis thing and we don't realize how much we've picked up until years later? Just some questions that popped into my head.

Of course, the big issue with this book is the ETHICS question. These children have been cloned for the sole purpose of donating their organs. I love the whole sex thing - have it, it's for fun, but don't catch any diseases. Oh yeah, and you can't have any kids.

Why are they being "educated?" Although I question the eductation their getting? What do you think the role of the teachers are in their lives? (Some of these questions might be answered further on in the book - sorry!)

What about the Madame and her gallery?

I hope this is a jumping off point for discussion. Again, I'm sorry I'm being lax, but I promise to be back for a more in depth entry! Please, have fun!

Posted by Knit One Read Too at June 29, 2005 09:50 AM


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Some of your questions, like Madame's gallery and the reason for their education, are indeed answered at the end. ;)

Also, like Cary, I too knew the main "surprise" of the book before reading it, so that the beginning chapters, where the author is (in my opinion) a little unnecessarily coy with the organ donor/cloning issue, felt like flat suspense to me, easily seen through. I was much happier when the truth came out in the novel as well, and the characters started to deal with that situation.

I have one main criticism of this book. Throughout the novel, I kept wondering why somebody doesn't, you know, just run away. Or challenge the authorities (besides the silly "but if we're really in love" thing). It's amazing and, frankly, an unrealistic thing for me to believe that these people, so precocious in their lives otherwise, don't even bother trying to rage against the machine. At first I couldn't figure out why I was so bothered by this - but I noticed the same thing pointed out in one of the Amazon reviews - and it summed up nicely what I felt. Rebellion and questioning authority are a part of the human experience. By not making giving anybody in the novel (cloned or otherwise) a counter-point opinion, it rings false as a human, contentious, viable alternative future.

One of the strangest scenes to me is where Kathy talks with Madame and Miss Emily, and they talk about the news and politics that surrounds cloning, which Kathy and Tommy know nothing about. Don't they bother to read the newspapers, or find out about the history of cloning? I know if I were in the same situation, I would be all over that information, trying to find out what was happening and why. Their lives are so insular, it is almost unbelievable.

But I must admit, much of the creepiness and sadness of the novel seemed to come from the fact that nobody DID challenge what was going on. The ending was touching and haunting... and the novel gave me food for thought.

Posted by: Sandy J at June 29, 2005 11:05 AM

My problem with this book, and some other lately, is that it seems as if it is written for a 17-year old. I am a young adult librarian who is hardly a young adult, and by readers would love this! Like the'Curious incident..'or 'Prep' where these are considered Adult Fiction I don't find the adultness in them.
I liked the book. I knew about the cloning beforehand. It was slow. It painted a picture, for me, of their lives. I would recommend it to others but, perhaps generational, I just didn't love it.

Posted by: Nancy at June 29, 2005 11:46 AM

I chose not to read any of the reviews ahead of time so didn't understand about the cloning until a little ways into the book. The description stated it was a mystery so I kept waiting for someone to die or be kidnapped. It took me a bit to understand that it was "mysterious".
As to the running away--I thought about this during the book and wondered if that wasn't part of their cloning makeup. The were created a certain way.
I listened to this book rather than read it as I have a lot of knitting projects right now. I really enjoyed the narrator and because I was doing two things at once the slowness and coyness at the beginning was not as annoying as I know it would have been had I been reading it. I really enjoyed the story because of the presentation I chose.
As to the ethics question I don't feel it was dealt with one way or the other all that well. There was a lot of shadowy "world" out there that was really only dealt with in the one visit to Madame's. I would have liked to see more of that conflict.

Posted by: Deb at June 29, 2005 01:08 PM

Re: the absence of rebellion... The point was made in one of the reviews that not rebelling against "duty" is typically English, and may not play well here in America. Frankly, I never bothered to ask myself why Kathy and the others weren't running away (well, the question popped up once, but then went away). What fascinated me--and what I think the novel was really about--was how Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and the others moved around the box that they were in. Hailsham strikes me as a metaphor for the confines of the donors' lives--you can only go so far, and beyond that is danger. Even when Kathy is out of the geographical box of Hailsham, and is travelling all over England as a carer, she remains in the "donor" box. I think this is why the novel is almost entirely backward looking--Kathy can only figure out her life (as she approaches her turn to donate) by sifting through the contents, because nothing new is coming in.

Posted by: Kirsten at June 29, 2005 01:45 PM

Deb - I thought that it might be part of their cloning makeup as well. But they are otherwise contentious people (Ruth especially!) so how it's obvious they didn't take agression out of them - and I don't think there is a way to engineer a single thought out of a person's mind. Even besides the clones, however, where were the real people protesting this event? Madame's explanation that people just became dependent seemed too simplistic for me.

I too, listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the narrator in it. And, even so, I still got annoyed at the repetativeness and the slow development of some scenes that sometimes, frankly, didn't seem that important!

Posted by: Sandy J at June 29, 2005 01:49 PM

I purposely stayed away from all reviews before reading because I'd heard there was a twist. The twist(s) unfolded slowly and quickly enough for me to remain patient.

I thought the book was written well enough to make the far-fetched seem believable (much like in The Plot Against America). Most of my "huh?" questions were answered in the book.

Rather than discussing the ending and the talk with Madame, I wanted to mention an aspect that I read about in a review a few months ago. The characters have nearly everything that is fundamental or taken for granted in other stories stripped away, namely family. These are children who were neither orphaned nor abandoned but were born with no family at all. How does removing all the standard familial issues or influences shape these characters?

Posted by: Lauren at June 29, 2005 02:53 PM

I stayed away from reviews for the same reason. As for lack of running away, I had no problem with that, because they were being raised in a protective bubble at Hailsham. They didn't really understand what they were to do, only that they were valuable and well-cared-for themselves. In terms of protests outside Hailsham, for all we know, there were; Kathy as the narrator may have been protected from them. And we do know Hailsham is closed in later years.

I liked the book very much; it was chilling and haunting, and I didn't mind the slow delivery, because I thought it represented Kathy's own slowing growing awareness. But this is the only life she's even known; it's not like she was raised in a normal family and taken away.

Posted by: Amy at June 29, 2005 03:41 PM

When I first started reading this I thought it might drag and be slow reading, but before I knew it, I was halfway through. I finished this book way back at the beginning of June. When I finished, I jotted some stuff down so I would remember what I wanted to talk about.

I too wondered why none of them ran away. I questioned whether sheltering them at Hailsham was the right thing to do, and whether it left them unprepared for real life - but then reading someone's comments above, I realized that maybe they were in a "box" and had nowhere else to go.

Wouldn't have telling them they were clones been better, or would it that have done what Miss Emily suggested at the end, having the kids say "what's the point of everything," then. This book raises interesting questions about how to treat human clones. It will probably happen eventually, and after all, they are human, even if they are clones. Perhaps Hailsham was an attempt to give these people a childhood before their duties kicked in, but did they really have a childhood. It sounded like they were deprived off things, having to acquire possessions the way they had to.

The end left me wanting a little bit. Did Kathy ever become a donor or was there something wrong with her? I guess they became donors when their #1 selves (the non-clones) got sick, and perhaps she was lucky that hers was healthy for so long.

Posted by: Becky at June 29, 2005 04:07 PM

Like Deb, I listened to this book, and I enjoyed the narrator's reading, and while I found the first CD (roughly the first three chapters a little slow and hard to get into) I was enjoying it very well by the next CD. I knew about the clone issue before reading, but it did not encumber my interest in the story.

Lauren mentions the family issues above: is this why the students were so discouraged from associating with the guardians? the students seemed to form the friendship bonds very tightly, lasting into their donor/keeper years, as was the case with Ruth, Tommy and Kathy. Also the whole sex issue--they were not able to procreate, but were allowed to do it whenever because they knew there would be no risk of children; thus creating a family.

The whole donor process was very unclear to me as I could not figure out whether they were donating to their "possibles" or to anyone out there who needed the organs... any ideas about that?

Overall, a thought-provoking book, and I am very intrigued to see what the other readers thought.

Posted by: Lolly at June 29, 2005 05:25 PM

I got the impression they donated to anyone, because it seemed like they never found out who the "possibles" were. That raises interesting moral questions, too--would you donate DNA to create a clone whose entire life's purpose is to have their organs harvested to save someone else's life? Yeek.

Posted by: Amy at June 29, 2005 06:15 PM

It wasn't until the very last page that I realized I'd been waiting for something--that I felt something was missing. Finally, Kathy feels grief at the loss of her. . well, I was going to say "soulmate," but I guess the reality of their souls is supposedly in question. This very flat, emotionaless stance is typical of other anti-utopian novels like The Giver and The Handmaid's Tale, so it felt right to me in this book.

I knew nothing about this book before I read it--I learned that lesson a long time ago. I seldom even read the jacket blurb. By the time I hit page 70 I took a break and wrote a few notes. My suspicion was that the characters were clones, but I wasn't entirely convinced that was the case. Given that it was the 1990's, I knew that would mean we would had to have taken a major ethical left turn somewhere around the 40's or so. I don't think this is well explained in the novel. Perhaps if it had been set in the future, this wouldn't have been an issue for me.

I, too, was struck by the characters' indifference to their plight and lack of self-determination, especially since I found the depiction of Ruth so realistic and typical of the occasional manipulative female I've known. I wondered why they didn't just walk away. Perhaps they didn't know how, or just couldn't picture themselves doing it.

I realize I forgave this book a lot, because it was a first-person narrative--which I love to read--and therefore I knew the narrator was untrustworthy to a certain degree. I did enjoy it; I practically inhaled the book over two days. But it did leave me a little dissatisfied, though the last page helped a bit.

Now I'll go read the reviews!

Posted by: Laurie~Green-Eyed Grrl at June 29, 2005 08:46 PM

I truly enjoyed this book. Like many others, I knew absolutely nothing about the premise.

This is the email I sent to Patricia (also a member of this group) the moment I finished the book:

Well, I just finished the book. With the exception of the first 51 pages, I read it in a day.

I haven’t looked at K1R2 site yet because I’m not entirely sure I want to have this feeling tampered with yet. I’m sad and quiet about this story.

I thought for a while at the end that Kathy was telling the story from inside her head after the fourth donation. That there was no completion (a word I now don’t like) for her as there was never any completion for her in ‘real life’.

It was almost dream-like the way the story was told because, with the exception of the pencil-case and the pictures in the gallery in Norfolk, the only colors ever mentioned were blue or grey. There were also never any sensory experiences mentioned like feel (except for cold wind) or taste.

I’m also not sure whether the ‘never let me go’ had to do with Kathy or Ruth. Kathy lived by her memories while Ruth denied hers, but if Ruth hadn’t kept Kathy and Tommy apart, they would have been together and Ruth let go because she was quite difficult.

Do you think the guardians made such an issue of sex because these were ‘people’ not created by the act of sex? Or was it because they would have little other pleasures in life after Hailsham? Why did Kathy and Ruth have such sexual urges?

Why were Judy Bridgewater and Lucy Wainright the only two characters to have last names?

I think the deferral business not existing is Ishiguro’s way of saying that Love does not conquer all.

Do you think the author feels that while clone’s have souls, they do not have free will? Why didn’t any of them try to run away? What really prevented them from hopping on a boat and going to France or Spain and just disappearing?

The more questions I ask, the more my head and heart hurt.

I’m really glad I read this book. It’s been a long time since a book affected me beyond a chuckle or two. (Weren’t many here huh?)

Posted by: Julia at June 30, 2005 04:42 PM

I too, was reminded of Handmaid's Tale. I think the situation in this book hadn't been around long enough for a rebellion to get going. And we don't really question our cultural mores as we are growing up, until a certain age anyway. So it made sense to me that they accepted their situations. And Kathy said herself at one point that ideas were kind of slipped in on them when they were too young to really process them, and by the time they were older, the ideas were just part of their reality. I think Ishiguro's frame of reference is different than an American frame - he was raised in Britain, and there is horrible bashing that goes on within the school system, and it's just an accepted fact that it goes on. Like fraternity hazing was for so long in this country. The seeds of the rebellion are there, though - that idea of the deferral keeps spontaneously coming up.

I was suddenly struck about halfway through the book - isn't this us? We grow up and we go to school and we work, and really our destinies are to be the worker bees of the country, with the very wealthy making billions off our labor? There's an ebb and flow of exploitation and rebellion, for instance the rise of industrialism, then the rise of the labor unions. Did you know that, whenever a dam is built, they know several workers will die, and it's just factored into the whole equation? Combining that idea with what happened in the Holocaust, people being confined to labor camps and the rest of the population ignoring it - how far are we really from this kind of use of cloning actually being implemented by the very privileged and wealthy?

Posted by: Patti at July 1, 2005 03:09 PM

There's a movie coming out later this summer with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johannsen (sorry, the title escapes me at the moment) about clones who are used for their spare parts for humans, and how the clones rebel and try to run away...hmmmm....

Posted by: Amy at July 2, 2005 10:04 AM

Yep, it is The Island

(I always pay attention to things that Ewan is in!)

Posted by: Lolly at July 2, 2005 05:12 PM

Sorry about getting here "late." I finished the book very early in June, but am just now getting here.
I chose not to read the jacket "blurb" before I started reading, but for some crazy reason, read it after about 50 pages, and I felt like it gave everything away, which really upset me. I had an idea of what was going to be revealed, but would have rather discovered it for myself. Guess I've learned my lesson.

I guess I thought a little about why they didn't run away, but I'm thinking maybe I envisioned a "big brother" who was always watching them, so that they couldn't run away.

I thought it was interesting how forced the relationships seemed between the characters. They certainly weren't what I would consider good friends, or even very close.

I thought that their organs went to anyone who needed them, not just their possible.

But why have real people at all if you can have clones, who presumably have no health issues (as none of them ever did until they started donating)? And why are the clones allowed to have some semblance of a "normal" life, why aren't they just created at the age they need to be to donate and then left to die?

I really liked the ideas behind the novel, as I also really like other anti-utopian novels, like Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. Makes you think, not always in a good way.

Posted by: Jenn at July 5, 2005 10:21 AM

I'm no scientist, but I don't really think it's biologically possible to have a clone spring full-formed at the age of thirty out of nothing. They had to be born and grow, and so something had to be done until they were the right age.

What I really don't get is why have multiple donations? It seems terribly cruel, given that they're going to die an early death anyway. Not only are they deprived of a normal, full life, but they have to go through multiple surgeries and recoveries that consume their last years. Why not just harvest all the organs at once? Ishiguro doesn't give any explanation for the multiple donations, nor does he even hint at what organs are donated. That makes no sense to me, and I found other, similarly unexplainable pieces of the plot very jarring. I kept getting caught up in the holes in the story and was distracted from the characters. I know the characters and their relationships were really the focus of the novel, but I felt like a more thorough explanation of the circumstances and setting would have allowed me to focus more on the characters and less on contrivances of the plot.

Posted by: Sydney at July 5, 2005 05:18 PM

I think that by having the characters accept their lot and not consider running away, Ishiguro was trying to show that they AREN'T fully realized people. Kathy's emotionally stunted narration has a similar feel. That is what makes the text rather morally ambiguous, to me.

I agree with Sydney that there are some plot problems (like the multiple donations - was that just a device to give Kathy the carer role?). And why are they all killed at the same age? One would think it might be staggered and that some would need to donate as children. These issues were fairly easy for me to overlook, because the focus was really on the characters.

Posted by: Lauren at July 5, 2005 07:02 PM

I thought the multiple donations made sense within the premise of the book, and the conflict exposed at the end - the people who ran the system decided that they did not have souls, therefore there was no cruelty in keeping them alive and using them as needed. They were like lab rats. Denying the existence of their souls kept that whole can of worms closed.

Posted by: Patti at July 6, 2005 05:52 PM

I'm not done yet, it took me a while to get into it. For some reason the first few pages confused me/didnt grab me. (I think it was the "carer" part, I didnt get what she was talking about at all) I hope to join the conversation soon. :)

Posted by: Yahaira at July 7, 2005 05:14 PM

I had ordered this book from before I joined this group (I'm not sure I'm even officially a member yet, but I'll give it a try) and so I did read the blurb, and Salon's review of it, so I knew what to expect. I didn't find that it hindered my enjoyment of the book as I listened to it at all.

For me, one of the strongest themes was the insidious indoctrination these people got, presumably from infancy. I think that's why there was never any issue of running away, because they started so early with the mental conditioning. As Kathy explains, they were often told things about their situation long before they were mature enough to understand them, so when the time came and they did understand, it was so thoroughly ingrained in their psychological make up it wasn't questioned at all. This disturbs me, especially since I can see how it applies to many situations in "real" life (religion, bigotry, gender roles, etc.).

I love Ishiguro's writing, it haunts me long after I finish reading it.

Posted by: Debbie at July 7, 2005 06:30 PM

The multiple donations made sense to me in that they were being harvested as needed. Unless some method of preserving organs outside the body comes up, currently the only way to transplant organs is to use very fresh ones.

As for their not running away, I agree with Debbie about the indoctrination. I also found an interesting passage in a book I'm reading now, Lord Byron's Novel, that for me helped explain their indifference to disappearing:
"For as children do, they thought not to ask the world why and wherefore they had come to be as they were, and not a different way instead; content to know themselves, and one another, as they knew the heat of the sun, and the taste of the mountain's water-springs."
It was just the life they knew, and they didn't know anything else.

Posted by: Amy at July 8, 2005 11:24 AM

I haven't finished this yet (my bad, I have been resucked into my Tamora Pierce), but I am grateful to realize that I wasn't the only one to see a resemblance to The Handmaid's Tale.

I am nearly done with the book. My viewpoint is that the organs were taken from them piecemeal, and what made people at Hailsham different from other clones was that they weren't necessarily for everybody. Sort of like the wealthy got their organs from clones (possibles?) from a place like Hailsham while others had to make do with clones from less ideal locations.

As for why they were cared for, I don't think it was possible (or maybe cost prohibitive) to 'force grow' people to a certain level of development. There were guardians there just to condition the clones to their fate.

Now I have to go back and reread Handmaid's Tale.

Posted by: Seanna Lea at July 12, 2005 12:00 PM

Hi Everyone, I thought I'd offer a few responses to some issues raised above.

First, about not running away, I agree with Debbie's comment about the process of gradual indoctrination which makes a person not doubt their lot in life. But furthermore, perhaps avoiding that detail was Ishiguro's way of engaging our imagination on the topic. If we can ask, why don't they run away, then we can imagine the reasons...the have no money, no place to go. We can imagine that they have been denied passports, proper identification, they don't even have last names! By making me, a reader, come up with these answers myself, Ishiguro has subtly shown me how I might buy-in to such a society as he presents; maybe I'm not so different from the people who designed the system in the first place.

Separately, though, as we know, Halisham was special. Miss Lucy makes a strange comment about how it's better not to have electricified fences, terrible accidents happen. This implies that other facilities do indeed have electrified fences! If these children were not at Halisham, then they'd likely be a place not better than a prison, or a holding pen like cattle waiting for the slaughter.

(I once read a study that showed that a group of children allowed to play on a large playground surrounded by a fence will spread out and happily play at the very edge of the playground, right up against the fence. Children playing in that same place with the fence removed stayed grouped together, close to the center, unconsciously choosing security over freedom).

Finally, why didn't people protest? This I think is *the* great irony of the book: Halisham WAS the protest! Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and the others were pawns in a huge experiment, but the experiment wasn't cloning, the experiment was "What will happen if we treat clones as human beings?" The experimentt was Halisham itself: treating the children well, teaching them self-respect and experiement designed to prove how wrong "the system" was. I began thinking of this school system as one like any other...some locations great, others not, most somewhere in the middle, and depending on where you were born you might end up with a better or worse option. But by the end I believed that Halisham and a few other 'estates' were extraordinary exceptions, and that the other institutions were no more than holding cells.

Thanks for hearing me out. My biggest question is why was it forbidden for them ever to return to Halisham?

Posted by: Diane B at July 20, 2005 04:11 PM

At first I thought that this book would be an easy summer read. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself with a host of questions and impressions (mostly false) until ¾ ‘s of the way through the story. I thought that as the story slowly unfolded many questions were answered but then left the reader with so many more questions to ponder.
I hope that I’m not too redundant when I bring up the following…
I thought that Kathy was kind of complacent and didn’t act on her feelings about her origins. Maybe she knew that any questions were fruitless and she seemed to know that her fate was sealed and she could only delay the harvesting by being a “caretaker”. I would have liked to have more details about the organs donated, to whom, and who was really behind Halisham. The subject of casual and seemingly frequent sex was quizzical. It almost seemed as though sex was a way to pass time. Maybe the casualness of it all was to highlight Kathy and Co.’s short timetable.
The rest of queries are addressed in prior posts. The book was okay, although not one of my favorites.

Posted by: Patricia at August 1, 2005 01:42 PM

This clone/donor thing appears to be a new literary trend or pop culture trend. First the Ewan McGregor movie "The Island" came out, and now in this month's Atlantic Monthly, Joyce Carol Oates has this as a theme for a short story. Hmmm....

Posted by: Amy at August 3, 2005 03:22 PM

Just some thoughts....

I've just closed the book and also if I found the last pages weaker and less robust than the previuoses, I was really upset by the general mood of the Ishiguro's novel.

I found it intriguing and misterious. I've experienced feelings that I felt reading "The Invention of Morel" by the writer Adolfo Bioy Casares (a really great short novel).

Maybe there are some unexplainable pieces of the plot, but in my opinion, the strenght of the novel lies in the fact that there are deep resemblances between us (human beings) and the Ishiguro's clones.

Like the clones, at some age we discover something of irredeemable (are we mortal?) and we finished to accept it like a natural thing, also if this truth remains absurd for our deep human souls. And we do not run away (or most of us don't) from our daily reality as they (the clones) didn't run away from their fate.

And... the really cruel multiple donations that they have to face, I guess, are very similar to the deaths of the people that we love (and we've loved) that we have to face during our lifes...

Posted by: pacino at August 4, 2005 04:41 PM

The reason that none of the clones run away is not because they have no free will, it's that they're English. We English are used to doing what we're told without a whole lot of fuss.
If these characters had been American they would have busted loose and love would have conquered all.
Hmmm, I think it's pretty clear that the American version of Never Let Me Go is pretty much the movie 'The Island'.
Seriously, think about it. The Hailsham kids seem to know all of the rules without someone having to go through the awkward process of saying them plainly. You don't bring up certain topics. It's just not done. You don't ask why the queue is taking so long, you just politely stand there for hours on end. Set this novel anywhere else but England and it just doesn't work at all.

Posted by: IshiguroReader at August 10, 2005 02:35 AM