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Book Club: Never Let Me Go

By Laura Rathbone

Never Let Me Go is Ishiguro's 6th full novel and was published in 2005. It's set in a dystopian alternate-reality in England, UK, during the late 1990s where the lives and health of people is extended through a programme of cloning and organ donations.

The novel is written in an unusual style, Ishiguro builds up a conversation between the protagonist, Kathy, and you the reader as she directly talks to your from the pages.

She assumes that you already have a level of knowledge about her world and so for many chapters you are left with a kind of expectant confusion, waiting for the penny to drop.

This brings the reader into a state of tension, of knowing something is not quite right but unable to find out just what before Kathy reveals it to you in her story. It almost felt like you were unethically receiving the story - as if you were voyeuristically taking part in someone else's intimate life without fully revealing yourself.

As the story unfolds, you realise that you've connected in a human way to a clone, and once the reality of this is revealed to you the language of the story unravels to show the distinctive ways in which the people of the society and indeed the system of society, relates differently to the clones versus other living beings.

The function of this is to bring into question 'what is it to be human'?

And the book continues to explore this theme towards the end as the donors/clones begin to wonder what it is that shows their 'soul'. A topic that drifts in and out throughout the story, but takes on new and desperate meaning towards the end of the novel.

Donors, clones, are assigned 'carers' who are other clones. And we learn early on that Kathy, our guide in the story, has been a carer for many years. As a healthcare professional, I immediately connected with her and wanted to understand her, which teaches me something about my relational humanity that I'm still unpicking! But I wanted to find comparisons between my reality and hers, looking for humanity in every phrase.

This is what Ishiguro does so well, he builds and nurtures a deep connection between the reader and the characters until you become part of the story. And we are part of the story, we operate as observers and confidence, which reminds us that stories need to be heard as well as told. The life and soul of the story is in the exchange of them. Kathy's words lay unheard, closed in the book until you open it and invest in it.

I can't help but see it as the most powerful teaching in art for clinicians and a mirror up to our humanity.

I have loved this book, from the moment my dear friend recommended it. The beauty and power of the story and teaching held within simply grows, even now as I am typing on my computer and thinking in my own writing.

We look forward to sharing more with you over this next month on Pain Geeks.

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