Modern utopia and dystopia in the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Imagining non-existing ideal or non-ideal worlds and places has been existing in the fantasy of humanity since it has its own civilized society with its “own world”. As imperfection and dissatisfaction with it are core characters of human societies, the imagination of an ideal system that works perfectly is a way to look for solutions and answers. Both ideal and non-ideal worlds of human fantasy can provide a picture that can be used to improve one’s own, existing world and society and as a warning against contemporary trends.
In this paper – as the title says – I would like to write about utopian and dystopian elements in the modern, contemporary world using a novel from this decade, titled Never Let Me Go (1995) by Kazuo Ishiguro. The novel highlights some deep problems of humanity around the beginning of the 21st century using a combination of utopia and dystopia. On the following pages I present these elements and I also try to interpret them: what problems of modern society they reveal and what solutions they might offer.
2. Kazuo Ishiguro and utopian-dystopian ideas
Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of Never Let Me Go was born in Nagasaki, Japan. Then he moved to England with his family and attended university there. From 1982 he is a British citizen, and one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world. In 1989, he won The Man Booker Prize with his book The Remains of the Day, but he was also shortlisted in 1986 with his book An Artist of the Floating World, in 2000 with When We Were Orphans, and in 2005 with Never Let Me Go.
Although Never Let Me Go is a utopian novel with science fiction qualities and a futuristic tone, all of his books are set in the past. So we could not say that the idea of utopia and dystopia is characteristic for Ishiguro’s works, but what he presents with or without utopia and dystopia is characteristic to him. His novels are written in the first-person narrative style and the narrators often exhibit human failings. Ishiguro's technique is to allow these characters to reveal their faults implicitly during the narrative. Thus, a sense of pathos is created because the reader can see the narrator’s faults, allowing him to sympathize with the narrator.
Ishiguro's novels often end without any sense of resolution. The issues his characters confront are buried in the past and remain unresolved. Thus Ishiguro ends many of his novels on a note of melancholic resignation. His characters accept their past and who they have become, typically discovering that this realization brings comfort and an ending to mental anguish.
However, this style is also criticized, for example by Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times):
Like the author's last novel (When We Were Orphans), Never Let Me Go is marred by a slapdash, explanatory ending that recalls the stilted, tie-up-all-the loose-ends conclusion of Hitchcock's Psycho. The remainder of the book, however, is a Gothic tour de force that showcases the same gifts that made Mr. Ishiguro's 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day, such a cogent performance.