Ishiguro’s new novel provides the opportunity to take a second look at Kathy from Never Let Me Go

I haven’t read Kazuo Ishiguro’s very recent novel, Klara and the Sun yet. I’ll probably wait (at least) until it’s out in mass market paperback, as I tend to do with new novels. But, although I’ve no immediate plans to read it, I’ve been enjoying the buzz around its release, which has led me to read several reviews, including that by Vox’s Constance Grady. As I’ve written before, I’m sceptical about the value and the future of the book review, but Grady is one of a handful of reviewers whose work I still read regularly.

She finds Ishiguro’s newest work reminiscent of Never Let Me Go, the novel from 2005 which is probably his best known and most liked:

Never Let Me Go readers will recognize this narrative trick of Ishiguro’s. In that novel, narrator Kathy H. is a likable and intelligent child who is plainly living in a world of sinister secrets, but who does not have the scope of reference to make it clear to the reader immediately just what those secrets are. She experiences them as normal, and thus feels no particular need to explain.

This is at odds with my own perception of Kathy, which I wrote about some 18 months ago. I don’t mean to repeat what I wrote then, except to say that I believe it shows Kathy to be complicit in the cruelty of the authorities and the medical profession. It is because of her skill at helping the donors to recover quickly after the first three donations, and in keeping them calm and distracting their attention from what will be done to them after the fourth, that she has remained a carer (and postponed her own donations) for more than 11 years. If Kathy is reticent about revealing her complicity, it’s not entirely because she has failed to grasp the full horror of what is happening to her former fellow-students.

To judge (only) by the reviews of the new novel, Klara sounds like a much more benign, less compromised “character” than the earlier book’s Kathy was. I’m looking forward to finding out — but not for some time.

I originally posted this on Medium on 7 March 2021. I’m probably going to delete my Medium account soon — I gave it a reprieve 4 months ago, so I could try it out using a custom domain — so I’m moving this post here.