I picked this up based entirely upon vague recommendations I'd heard. I hadn't ever read anything by Ishiguro—or really even wanted to, though I knew his reputation as a good writer. And here's a little confession: I pick books based at least partially (sometimes largely) based on their covers. It's something I discovered when I was working at a bookstore: You may not be able to actually judge a book by its cover, but you can frequently pick them based on that. Covers are designed to appeal to the same target market that the book itself would appeal to. It's not a perfect approach, but I've found that it yields a lot more hits than misses. Anyway, the cover of this book is not the type of cover you'd see on a book that I would read. I like covers (and books) with warmth and texture. This cover is cold and ironically impersonal, and even the irony itself was on display. I'm honestly not sure why I went ahead and got the book.
The thing is that while I didn't misjudge it—it's pretty much the type of book I expected, based on that cover—still I'm glad I read it. After the first couple of chapters I wasn't sure I'd like it, and I flirted with putting it down. But it was so well written that I decided to stick with it. Ishiguro deserves his reputation, I have to say. The writing is very good; good enough, in fact, that you can read the entire book and not even realize how well written it is. It doesn't stand out, but it's very effective. It's also a very thoughtful book, and gives you quite a bit to work out in your head.
From here on out I'm gonna issue a SPOILER alert. The first half of this novel is all very mysterious, and you're trying to figure out who these people are and what makes them so special and what the hell these "donations" are they keep talking about. If you haven't read it and want to keep the suspense, stop reading NOW.
I was pretty bummed, actually, because I had just finished Chapter 11 and was messing around reading the end matter & whatnot (I do that sometimes between chapters) and I ran across the Library of Congress cataloguing info and saw Cloning—Fiction.
I about died. Obviously that was what all the suspense was about, and I figured the rest of the book wouldn't be nearly as interesting. But then on the second page of Chapter 12, she (the narrator) tells you they're clones. It would probably have been a really powerful moment, actually—as a writer, I appreciate the way he dropped that information in there.
The characters in the book (most of them, anyway) are clones whose entire purpose is to donate organs. Ishiguro avoids the question of exploitation, for the most part, and focuses instead on what this scenario would mean as far as the age-old "meaning of life" question. If all you're going to do is donate your organs and die, then is it worth developing your soul, leading an interesting life, falling in love? In the end, though, they aren't that different from us. They die a little sooner, and the manner of their death is actually in the hands of some identifiable person (though, as I say, he does a very good job of avoiding the specificity of any particular person being in charge of that kind of thing—it's almost always 'they'). But we all face the same question: No matter what I do, I'm going to die. Will anything live on after? Do I have a soul? I don't know, any more than the clones in this book do.
In which sense, it was a pretty good book. I'm definitely glad I finished it.