Frozen Souls


I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It was made into a movie in 2010.  This will be a mini book review of sorts, but it brings up some interesting questions, too.

Kathy H. recounts the story of growing up in a boarding school in Great Britain.  It’s a special school, Hailsham, for very special kids.  They’re taught the arts and sports and all the regular subjects.  The art, however, is paramount.  Create something really special and Madame, chic in her grey suit, collects it to go in her Gallery.  The students’ art projects matter the most.  Producing substandard work will get you disciplined and ridicule from your fellow students.

It’s a strange and sheltered world.  The pupils have no family or parents.  Until they’re 16 or so, they don’t leave the grounds and they learn very little about the outside world.  They somehow learn to cook and clean but no job skills.  They dream of becoming farmers or postal carriers or office workers.

By students I mean donors.  Every single kid at the school is a clone of someone on the outside, what the students call a “possible”.  They’re told they must remain vigilant about their health.  Smoking is especially taboo.  Sex is okay because none of them can reproduce, but they need to protect against STDs.

You might surmise in this parentless, tiny world that morality doesn’t exist.  You’d be wrong.  Cliques emerge as family groupings, with leaders inherent in each. Deep friendships rival sibling bonds in the real world.  Punishment gets meted out after hours in the dorm.

At first, I thought the book centered around a school for gifted kids, kids with telekinesis, invisibility and the like, or maybe kids with amazing artistic abilities.  No.  But in the  post WWII world of this story, the breakthrough of human cloning looked pretty promising.  No more fatal disease, organs from a vacuum.  Of course, organs don’t grow in a vacuum.

Turns out the art Madame removes to her Gallery serves a bigger purpose.  It’s never sold to make money.  Madame and Miss Emily, the school’s director, have a reason.  The art shows the inner self of a student.  It shows they have souls.  Nobody wanted to think about the source of the pristine organs.  The guardians of the school made sure the children had childhoods, education, good food, shelter, care.  They wanted to create a good environment because they believed the students weren’t just donors; they were people, too. The art helped spike interest from sponsors who funded the school.

Personally, I would’ve liked more explanation about how clone models (possibles) were chosen.  I wanted to know how donations got distributed.  I wanted more information about that whole world.  I’m left to wonder.

This book sounds creepy, Susan, you might say.  The concept made me uncomfortable, I’ll admit. Yet it begs the question:  how *do* we show we have souls?  Is it only through creating art that our voice can be heard? Or is there more to this human experience? Can we change the destiny others have plotted out for us?




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