Kazuo Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day, which was a good movie, and which now I have to read, along with When We Were Orphans. And all this because I just finished his new book, Never Let Me Go, which was so good I had a really hard time returning it to the library. Which is not to say that I need to own it, but that when I finished it and sat back, I felt strongly like it wasn't really done with me.
It's deceptively simple--the voice of the main character is not of someone speaking poetry, or even trying. It's the voice of a friend of yours, a 30-year-old woman recounting stories from her private-school childhood. She tells them in the meandering way that one recounts one's own life, because in reality, a lifetime of moments do not all point to some cataclysmic ending. Rather, she tells stories she remembers, about her relationships with her best friends, about their growing up. Kathy will begin with a story that sticks out in her memory, then backtrack to an earlier incident that gives more meaning to the later incident, and hint at how it's affected who she is now.
But I think what makes this book wonderful is that it's about an alternate world. The England in the story is one with an alternate history, but only slightly. And the characters in the story inhabit an alternate society that lives side-by-side with the rest of us in their England, but it's not about us. Kathy is familiar, moreso than most characters in books, I think, because she is the same distance from you as people you meet--you're listening to her talk to you, rather than living inside her head with her. And that makes the separation of her world more poignant.
Also, the book is about injustice without being about change. I think this is very powerful. Almost every social injustice that has been or is being fought against was once and for a long time accepted as fact, without fanfare. I feel like there aren't a lot of those left--plenty of injustices, but few that aren't recognized. But these people live lives that make you at first want them to rise up and change things. Gradually, though, you realize this book isn't about change. It's about realization, and the meaning of life. It doesn't give answers, but yes, I'd say this book is about the meaning of life.