Hm. Let's see. It's by the guy who wrote Remains of the Day, so it has a bit of a "modern literature, good-for-you, subtly subtle investigation of people and their motivations, with people going into rooms and going, 'Oh! I, oh, well, oh. I didn't know you were in here.' 'Yes, Sebastian, what is it? I am moving books slightly to the left.' 'Oh. Well. I guess I'd better leave.' 'Yes, I guess you'd better had.'" sort of thing going on, which I find interesting when well-done (which I find very rare). So much of it is just ordinary description of people going about their days, but the subtle
subtleness is nice, in that it really *does* convey more going on than merely moving books slightly to the left.
Plus, much of it revolves around a boarding school. What can I say - I have a weakness. There is absolutely no way boarding schools are half as interesting as I was convinced they were at age eight, but it's v. hard for me to let go of that inner eight-year-old fascination. In some ways, this book reminded me of so many of the British Boarding School Novels I read at age eight, except nobody turns into a cat or a long-lost wizard or a hidden princess or anything. It's just, you know. People. Kids. Being cruel and kind as kids can be.
The narrator falls victim to the same fault of so many of these sorts of books, in that she's far less noticeable than some of the other characters, but for once I really do
believe that she is
a decent person, more decent than some of the other characters. She does things and has little kindnesses that some of the other characters don't that make her a better person than some of them, not by default
(hey, at least she's not as cruel as some of the other kids!), but because of some of her own actions. But again - subtle subtleness that is both subtle yet subtle. Or something.More detailed plot and character spoilers follow.
Like, big spoilers. Seriously. If you want to preserve the conceit of this book, at least a little bit at first (I found it fairly easy to figure out what was going on but found the unfolding of The Secret to be interesting and well-handled), skip this.
So, yeah. The kids in the boarding school? The grown-up kids resolving all their weird relationship issues? Clones. Created for organ harvesting. And their entire lives are shaped around their future "donations," after which they "complete." It's like The Island, only with far fewer explosions, and ultimately nobody escapes.
Maybe that's depressing, but I kind of like the story where the Big Secret - which is never really a secret to the characters, just is referenced obliquely to the reader, because there's nothing Secret or Weird about it to the characters - is revealed and is pretty much horrible and nothing changes
. The characters are interesting and valuable because of who they are
, not because they are, like, the Liberators Of The Clones or because they beat the system.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's depressing, but I like it nonetheless.
I imagine reading this was like what reading 1984 or Brave New World is/was like when no one really knew what they were about. When their plots weren't already revealed before anyone had ever seen the inside cover of the book. The point is the people
, not the science fiction plot idea behind them. (Okay, there is
a talky section at the very end, where one of the characters dons Captain Exposition
pants and gives backstory beyond what the narrator could know, but it was intriguing and I am willing to forgive its mild hokiness.)
I like that the teachers were revolted by the "students," theclones
, because I can imagine that happening. I can imagine people working for the betterment of the students because of the ideal they represent, even as they are horrified by their actuality. I like the way the narrator and her fellow students are clearly established as human beings
in the eyes of the readers before the notes of dissonance and oddness are fully established as being Other (and not just a really weird boarding school practice).
I like how art and creativity are deemed "necessary" to prove that the students have souls. I like how creepy
that is. I like how creepy the doubt of humanity is, how the students are treated halfway like people, halfway like, well, I don't know what. Less than human. Locked into the endless cycle of caring and donation and completion. I like how depressing it is that the one school to actually educate
the students is shut down for lack of support.
(Although I would have loved to see that fleshed out more.) I like how even the people educating the students see it as educating them purely for the sake of education, not because they fully see them as human or to give them a chance at a better life (as which education is always trumped). I like how the Hailsham students are a product both of thinking that their education is for something more and good and of thinking about how their lives are already laid out and how questioning their ultimate donation and completion is not even in their frame of reference at this point, only requesting a "delay." I like how the word die is only used once, maybe twice, in the whole book.
Even as all that's going on, I was intrigued by how, hm, typical
some of the characters and their interactions are. The best friend is charming yet cruel, and I for the life of me couldn't figure out why people were her friend. Yet isn't that the way it can be in school? The narrator was a little more introspective, a little more caring, a little more something
than most of the people around her, but ultimately she wasn't particularly memorable. The boy is friends with the narrator but dates the cruel friend, even as he's in love with the narrator. And what makes it compelling in a way it wouldn't otherwise be is how it plays out over the backdrop of the fact that they're clones and being raised solely to donate their organs and ultimately their entire bodies. It just kicks everything into high relief and makes something that would be interesting but not particularly intriguing into complex and deeply intriguing. At least