Every morning I feed my two cats. Every morning I try to get them to calm down while I put their food in their bowls, to wait for me to finish before they start eating. More often than not, they have completely forgotten their lesson from the day before to sit and wait. It can be very frustrating, but I try to remember that they are just cats; they don’t have the same memory capacity humans have. So I forgive them, and I’m patient with them, and I pursue my quiet training in the calmest way I can.
I recently took a stint away from my cats (and the rest of my life) to go road tripping around Australia. I made sure to bring a long line of good books to read with me. One was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, first published in 2005 and then adapted into a major motion picture in 2010.
Never Let Me Go is the first book I’ve read by Ishiguro, and I’ve heard nothing but praise of him from fellow booklovers. To my surprise though, I found the book to be too slow. Even though I was on holiday, I must have been seeking more of an adventure novel, as I struggled getting to the halfway point.
However, from there, something changed. I began to reminiscence alongside the three main characters, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, as their lives and memories become increasingly tangled, mysterious, and heartbreaking. Never Let Me Go centers on this nostalgia that you get from looking back on the life you’ve lived, and the lives of those you knew well.
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are all students from a school called Hailsham, located in England in an alternate dystopian future where the fate of certain people, such as our three main characters, is decided before birth. It’s a fate that doesn’t leave them with any option but to follow the path laid out for them. It’s through the struggle of finding out their purpose and dealing with the pain of realising their dreams will never come true that makes Never Let Me Go a sweepingly sad and poignant novel. In the end, we know that there is nothing more that can be done for our protagonists and for anyone that may come after them.
Kathy weaves the stories of her time at Hailsham, and her decided fate thereafter, in snippets that we as readers are then able to pull together ourselves. We start to remember moments of our protagonists’ lives as almost real pieces of our own memory. Memories such as when Kathy talked to Ruth with a hot cup of tea in her hands, or when she consoled Tommy outside near a pond after a harrowing talk he had with one of the Hailsham teachers, Miss Lucy, become pictures of our own story; the tale of us as readers flipping through the pages of Ishiguro’s slow-mounting masterpiece.
So, if I were to sum up what Never Let Me Go is all about and why on Earth I would talk about the novel and my mundane daily routine of feeding my cats in the same article, you have to first understand that each moment of reading this book was my own moment; my own time; my own memory. In finishing the novel, I could only make sense of what happened because I, too, am a human that has lived through ups and downs. I, too, am a vessel of times lost and lived, and in living on, I become the storage container for those memories. Sometimes we struggle with those memories because they sadden us, other times we are enlightened by their presence. No matter what, though, we are made human and made present every time we think of our past and what we’ve learned from it.
Kathy triumphs, however, because she is able to make peace with the desolate path her life must take as she holds tightly onto the good times she did have. She uses her memories as a force for good, in an otherwise cruel and demanding world where she has one path only, and one that serves for the good of others around her and not for her own aspirations.
So, in going back to my cats and their daily feeding ritual, I ponder this question; since we humans have this ability to remember even the most minute details, then why do certain memories fade and other, seemingly useless memories, stay with us? The only answer I can discern is that our brain does its best to give us a picture of our lives that we want to look back on. In order to survive as a being, as a species, we need something to carry with us on our journey.
These questions spin through my head, and I can only guess if I’m right and if so, whether I have the power to control my memory or how I use my memory to cope with future hardships. For now, I’ll just go back to feeding my cats and hope that my patience will pass through to them, and one day, they will sit patiently for their food, and I will have a lovely memory to store somewhere deep in the hard drive of my brain.