Earlier I had complained about the opener of this book, and went on to say that it could be a difficult hurdle to overcome. However, while it may have knocked the book down a few pegs, I still ended up enjoying it... a little.
Other than the opening, the book has a lot of other flaws as well. Primarily, it's boring at times. I don't usually need a heavy, complex plot with twists and turns to hold my attention. A simple character driven story turns my crank as much as a suspense filled drama. But I think Ishiguro alluded to far too many secrets, horrific injustices and the like, but never quite delivered. So the story of a crumbling friendship between three friends, without the "clones raised for their organs" context, could have been interesting. Likewise, the story of clones raised for their organs, without the "crumbling friendship between three friends" blanket, could have been interesting. Alas, I found it dull. Actually, not all of it.
About halfway through I started to contemplate individuality. More specifically, I started thinking about how we, at least in this part of the world, embrace and encourage it yet contradictorily spend the greater part of our lives trying to find others with similar interests. Furthermore, we sometimes seem to fear or shun those that stick out too
But before I was ready to credit Ishiguro, I started thinking that any book with cloning at its core would make one think about individuality. Especially if it was boring and the mind began to wander. However, in hindsight, perhaps Ishiguro did lead me down that path intentionally.
A major part of the story concerned the artwork of the cloned children. Most creations were saved to be sold at a schoolwide arts and crafts exhibition, except for the really good stuff. Any particularly exceptional piece would be taken by an instructor and no one really knew why. The kids believed that it was held in a special gallery somewhere, but no one really explained it to them. However, one child in particular, brought a lot of animosity upon himself when he gave up contributing to the sales after being humiliated over his work by his classmates and teachers.
I took all this to mean that even the arts, which are supposed to be the creative outlet, need to sit comfortably atop a bell curve. Tommy, the child with the poor drawings (or perhaps misunderstood ones) was not accepted and the best work of the others was removed, leaving just the mediocre. I suspected that the good stuff was taken away because the idea of one clone being better than another was particularly threatening to their beliefs and perhaps to the children themselves. Since the instructors would have been aware of the children's idea that the good stuff went to a gallery, they knew that taking Thomas's work wouldn't fly.
In the end, in an unfortunately cheesy scene with a couple of the adult clones meeting with their former instructors, it is revealed that the better artwork had been removed with hopes of convincing the outside world that the cloned children had souls. It was interesting that they seemed to equate individuality with souls and it was hard not to take that as Ishiguro's opinion.
However, he seemed also to push a message about the folly of sheltering children from the truth, especially through the instructors who honestly believed they had the children's best interests at heart. They argued that had they revealed the truth to the children, that they were being raised solely to give their organs away to others, they wouldn't have enjoyed life. And while it's far from proof that they were wrong, there seems to be a bit of a suggestion as such in some of the final scenes. The adult clones, who have now become donors, know the awful truth and are slowly dying, stick together, managing to find some solace in the fact that they have a shared understanding and reality. This could lead to a number of conclusions about Ishiguro's viewpoint. 1. Individuality is fine but sharing bonds is also important. 2. Perhaps individuality is not proof of a soul at all. Perhaps the ability to find connections with other people despite individuality is the ultimate evidence.
Who knows? Maybe he was not making a point at all. Before appreciating Leonard Cohen I used to believe that all he did was intentionally talk vaguely or obscurely about God and everyone assumed it was insightful. I think I was wrong as far as Cohen is concerned. My verdict on Ishiguro is still out.
Labels: Clone Highs and Lows, Individuality, Kazuo Ishiguro