Thursday, February 2, 2012

My First Audio Book: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

I spent fourteen hours alone in a car on the way from St. Louis to Montclair, and I wanted something to listen to other than the CDs I'm all too familiar with. So I took my first plunge into audio books.

In some ways, this was the perfect book to read on audio. Rosalyn Landor has a beautiful voice, and she does a really good job making the characters come to life. However, this book is told in the format of a series of anecdotes, and it often jumps from one story to another. Given that I have a very limited attention span when it comes to listening to things, this often made the narration seem confusing. (Sure, I sometimes wander off even when I'm reading off the page, but it's much easier to back up when you're reading than when you're listening.)

But what about the story?

If I had to classify this book, I would call it a "science fictional story of love and growing up."

It's hard to rate this book, because it excels in some areas and fails in others. The science fictional premise was not entirely successful, in my opinion. It centered on several ethical and philosophical questions which had the potential to make this book very intriguing, but they weren't as well executed as I would have liked. This is largely because of the way the story isolates the characters from the rest of the world. We don't get to see much of the semi-futuristic world, and as a result, everything is explained in a huge info-dump at the end. I spent a large part of the story going "Well, what about _____?" and it would have been nice to see Ishiguro sneak a bit more worldbuilding into the actual story, rather than in the info-dump. There was also an enormous plothole: Why did no one even consider running away? If I knew my future involved a series of life-threatening surgeries, I would jump on the next bus and vanish.

However, as a love story, and especially as a story of youthful reminiscences, the novel is tragic and beautiful. The style and descriptions were absolutely gorgeous. More importantly, the three main characters were all flawed and well-developed. I was especially impressed with Ruth. She is the sort of character who constantly surprises you. There are moments when you're shocked by just how much of a bitch she can be, but then she turns around and surprises you again with acts of true friendship.

The best way to read this book is without expectations. While yes, it is science fiction, it's the sort of science fiction that appeals more to people who like philosophical questions and character-centered novels. Keep that in mind when you read it.

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