Look, it’s really fashionable right now to read everything as a critique of capitalism – so I’m going to do that because I am deeply critical of capitalism and I don’t really care about fashion. I think you can 100% read NLMG, which is excellent, as a critique of capitalism and you should, because fuck capitalism.
But I think that this book, this author, ET CETERA transcend this labelling by being deeply critical of power generally, and of role, class, structure, and all the other little constructs which a human being finds themselves negotiating over the course of their life. Reading this book as critical of capitalism (which it is, and should be, and that’s great) ignores that the underlying themes (nostalgia, idyll, maturity, loss, death, the transient and fleeting nature of absolutely everything, the fallibility of memory) applies to any and all power systems.
If anything, NLMG is a critique not only of our lived experience, but also of daring to dream it could ever be otherwise. It is firmly in its moment, no matter how much its moment wishes it were elsewhere. There is no elsewhere – just as Kath, Ruth, and Tommy are locked into their fates with no hope of reprieve (or even deferral), so too are we. We might wish it could be otherwise, we may fervently believe it was ever elsewise, but that’s all immaterial. We are, now.
Naturally I apply the lessons of this text to my own life and to the lives of those around me (Americans living under late-stage capitalism) when reading. What was the point, after all, of teaching the Hailsham children art and philosophy, of having them prove that they had souls, if it never mattered at all? Well what’s the point for us, anyway?
If this seems bleakly nihilistic, it’s because the book itself marches inexorably towards death and recognizes that the pleasures of life are fleeting, and that any sense or meaning we can make of it are, like audio cassettes in a second-hand shop, just so much assembled data. No matter how great our introspection or understanding, all we are doing is making sound – sometimes, like Tommy, furiously, and other times, like Kath, barely at all.
Rating: 9/10 or two thumbs up, maybe a hair under 5 stars. It’s really good. Go read it. Beautiful, haunting, cold, dark, and achingly empty in the best ways. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go will upset you for days and you will be grateful for it.