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Starred review from January 31, 2005
Like Ishiguro's previous works (The Remains of the Day
; When We Were Orphans
), his sixth novel is so exquisitely observed that even the most workaday objects and interactions are infused with a luminous, humming otherworldliness. The dystopian story it tells, meanwhile, gives it a different kind of electric charge. Set in late 1990s England, in a parallel universe in which humans are cloned and raised expressly to "donate" their healthy organs and thus eradicate disease from the normal population, this is an epic ethical horror story, told in devastatingly poignant miniature. By age 31, narrator (and clone) Kathy H has spent nearly 12 years as a "carer" to dozens of "donors." Knowing that her number is sure to come up soon, she recounts—in excruciating detail—the fraught, minute dramas of her happily sheltered childhood and adolescence at Hailsham, an idyllic, isolated school/orphanage where clone-students are encouraged to make art and feel special. Protected (as is the reader, at first) from the full truth about their eventual purpose in the larger world, "we were always just too young to understand properly the latest piece of information. But of course we'd take it in at some level, so that before long all this stuff was there in our heads without us ever having examined it properly." This tension of knowing-without-knowing permeates all of the students' tense, sweetly innocent interactions, especially Kath's touchingly stilted love triangle with two Hailsham classmates, manipulative Ruth and kind-hearted Tommy. In savoring the subtle shades of atmosphere and innuendo in these three small, tightly bound lives, Ishiguro spins a stinging cautionary tale of science outpacing ethics. Agent, Amanda Urban at ICM. 100,000 first printing; 9-city author tour.
- From the beginning, Ishiguro seems more intent on teasing listeners than pleasing them. The story simulates but never really delivers action. The characters, Kathy, from whose point of view the story is told, Tommy and Ruth, never seem fully real; even their sex is made to feel tentative, almost abstract. Why does no one in this coming-of-age story ever come of age? Rosalyn Landor's reading floats magically through this world of curiously brittle mannequins with her soft, dreamlike British accent, never quite forceful enough to touch earth. Its finely cultivated but celluloid crispness, like a movie that uses half the number of requisite still frames, constantly teases us to puzzle why her narration is as it is. Gradually we realize that her airily nuanced reading is key to Ishiguro's world, parallel to and frightfully much like but, clearly, not yet our own. P.E.F. (c) AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine
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