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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Reader's Diary #260- Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go (up to Chapter 7)

Maybe it was Blindness with its missing quotation marks, or maybe it was Generation X with its margin definitions, but I'm starting to think that maybe I'm a bells and whistles sort of guy. And I don't like that. Books shouldn't need a gimmick, should they? What happened to good old fashioned story telling?

If Never Let Me Go is any indication, it's boring! Hopefully I'll get out of this funk and simply adjust to a different author, but so far it seems like cookie cutter dystopian fiction. You begin with the vague hint that something isn't quite the same as our current world and throw in some new terminology while you're at it, being ever so careful to keep the mystery from revealing itself too quickly. Opening couple of sentences; "My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years."

You know what Ishiguro wants, right? He wants the reader to go, "A carer? What's a carer? Oooh, I'm going to have a late night tonight!" If I hadn't already read a dozen or so such books, maybe I'd care. Or maybe I'm just put off by the transparency of the technique.

Likewise with the not-so-subtle social commentary. We keep too much from kids, we force them to conform, blah, blah, blah. I get it. If adults are bad, the teacher ones must come directly from hell. (And from the pulpit, Ishiguro takes a moment to adjust his papers.)

Yes, I'm probably just in a bad mood. But I should end on a good note (karma and crap). He does put forth an accurate description of children. I loved the story about Ruth claiming to be a chess expert. Kathy ends up buying a chess board and asks Ruth to teach her. Before long it becomes pretty obvious that Ruth has been bluffing as she explains that each piece moves in an L-shape (apparently she'd only ever watched a knight move). The game of course doesn't work and when Kathy goes to remove one of her pieces, Ruth claims she did it in too straight a line. Kathy has enough and packs up the game.

Who didn't know a kid like that? Heck, I've even met a few adults like that. Hopefully, such stories will end up saving the book for me.

21 comments:

Allison said...

I don't see the lack of quotation marks in Blindness as similar to anything Coupland tries to use, or to be seen as gimmick. I think it fits with the story, and again, vastly different then having a page a of miscellaneous letters in bold front. I'm currently knee-deep in Blindness and clearly, over protective.

Hopefully the book can be saved with little gems such as the chess game. If not, oh well, plently more out there.

Paul Chislett said...

I - Great site!! I got the link from Stumbleupon and I will link it to my blog as well.

I'm in the English program at Laurentian University, and will check back often...

Paul

marydell said...

I don't know if you have read it yet, but you might want to try House of Leaves by Danielewski for both gimmick and a great story.

John Mutford said...

Allison,
You're right. As you probably remember, I was a huge fan of Blindness (so excited that you're feeling protective over it- that's a good sign, right?) and I don't really see it as a gimmick. I guess I was trying to think of arguments that Kazuo's fans might counter with but my facetiousness came across as sincere. I do think Saramago took risks with the lack of quotation marks, experimented, but as you said it works (though some people feel otherwise). From what I hear, it's not just something he uses for Blindness but for all of his books. I wonder, do you think other authors could pull this off? And would Blindness be as good if they did?

Paul, Glad you checked in. If you do check back, and find yourself agreeing or disagreeing at all, I hope you weigh in!

Marydell, No I haven't but thanks for the heads up. One of these days I need to go back through this blog with a fine tooth comb and write down all the recommendations that have been made to me. I could have all next year's reading planned for me!

Fearless said...

I don't judge books by their covers, I judge them by their first sentence, and this book would be on my do not buy list. Of course, I may be a little out of touch with the rest of the world as my favorite first sentence of any book is this:

"Mother died today."

Matt said...

I'm just nearing the end of Blindness and I'll likely be starting Never Let Me Go so I have been and will be watching your site closely. I'm interested to see if we agree on them both, I'm not ready to decide yet on Blindness. I can understand what you're saying about the first sentence of Never Let Me Go but I'm not sure I would have had the same reaction.

John Mutford said...

Fearless, I couldn't place that opening line (I thought maybe William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying". But when I searched to see if I was right, I discovered two things: 1. It was from Albert Camus's "The Stranger", right? 2. You're not alone in picking it as your favourite opening sentence. I don't know if I have a favourite, the only one I even remember is "Call me Ishmael".

Matt, First Blindness and then Never Let Me Go? We're soon going to make you an honorary member of the Iqaluit Book Club!

Allison said...

No, I know you're a fan of Blindness, that's why I was a little confused with your statement. You know, I think this technique could work for other authors, it really wouldn't make the story have more or less impact, as its really a very small part of the overall parcel, in my opinion.

On the book judging, the first sentence test rarely fails I find. I also choose books based on their dedications. This fails me a lot, but I always remember the good ones.

Fearless said...

Yes, the Stranger. I think it's the bluntness of that line and perhaps the uncertainty of the next - "Or was it yesterday?" that just hooked me. Or perhaps it's something Freudian, who knows?

The first line of the book I am reading now is - "Yes, I certainly was feeling depressed." So perhaps I just like books that are downers.

Dale said...

Marydell brought up what I was thinking as I started reading your thoughts, House of Leaves. I was led to it by gimmick as well, his sister's cd called Haunted. She goes by Poe.

John Mutford said...

Allison, I'll admit that a bad opener is a huge hurdle to overcome. As for the dedication, I sheepishly admit that I almost never read them.

Fearless, I think you're on the right track with the bluntness. I'd also say (without having read it...yet) that it probably sets the tone of the book. And yes, I'm attracted to a little gloom as well.

Dale, She's the "Angry Johnny" singer right? I just read about the book online and it sounds VERY intriguing. It also mentions the connections between Poe's Haunted and House of Leaves- if you feel there is such a connection, do you think this was collaborative or did one of them just try to capitalize on the other?

Dale said...

Yes, that's her John. They collaborated and although there's a connection to the book, the cd also deals with issues she had with her father and her reconnection with him after his death through an old box of tapes of his recorded voice she found. She uses some of the tapes in and between songs to interesting effect. It too sounds gimmicky but it's actually poignant and the cd has rocked me for years.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I judge by the first paragraph myself (it takes me a while to decide, I guess).

Here's my favourite first paragraph:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
- the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Matt said...

I have actually seen Poe open for another band in concert. She mentioned her brother's book of course and then had him come up and read part of the book while she played one of her songs. It's also that way on the album.

And John, an honorary member of the club, that's quite a... well, honor!

Sam Houston said...

Wow, it seems that several of us are reading Blindness at the same time. I'm about 70% of the way through it and I'm finding that it reminds me a lot (not in style, but in content)of a book that I read years ago.

Thanks to turning me onto this one, John. I think that it will be a difficult one to review, however. :-)

John Mutford said...

Sam, Yes, you, Allison and Matt are all reading it concurrently. And if I'm not mistaken, Barbara has purchased the book as well. As soon as all of you are done I expect copious amounts of feedback! I'm talking book reports!

I know what you mean about it being a hard book to review. If you'll remember, I was reduced to babbling about Grover from Sesame Street when I tried.

Sam Houston said...

Well, Headmaster Mutford, I've given it a shot over at the blog. This has to be one of the most unusual books I've ever read and I'll remember it for a long, long time.

Gentle Reader said...

I like your blog! And I didn't like Never Let Me Go. I was one of the only ones in my book group who didn't, initially, and then when we all got to talking about it, we picked it apart. I didn't think it had anything new to add to the dystopian fiction oeuvre, either.

John Mutford said...

Gentle Reader, Hey right back at ya! I just noticed btw that you have Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise on your "to read" list. I'm looking forward to reading that post as I read that only recently. I'd suggest reading the notes at the end, btw.

Krakovianka said...

I think I landed here from So Many Books, and couldn't resist sharing my thoughts on this book.

http://ukrakovianki.blogspot.com/2007/03/fiction-and-philosophy.html

That's my thoughts on Never Let Me Go, but they are closely linked to my thoughts on The Secret by Eva Hoffman.

http://ukrakovianki.blogspot.com/2007/02/some-secrets-we-might-not-want-to-know.html

I read The Secret first, and someone suggested Never Let Me God because it dealt with similar themes, so I read that too. But the first book was better, and if you're curious about the first sentence:

Of course, I've always had a secret.

John Mutford said...

Speaking of first sentences, I just read this quote over at Sam's blog, "You expect far too much of a first sentence. Think of it as analogous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination." - Larry McMurtry

Krakovianko, I just read your comments on your site. I really liked your take.

I'm not sure how I feel about that "Secret" opening sentence, to be honest. I'd still read the book, but it seems almost as forced as Ishiguro's.