As I was nearing the end of this book, I was beginning to think about how I could possibly talk about it in my review, and here I am, having just finished it, and I have no idea where I'm going to go with this. So I'll just ramble.
This book is fascinating on so many levels--literary, moral, sociological, philosophical, psychological... I can't begin to describe the way it made me feel.
Looking at the story, the choices made by Ishiguro in what to reveal, what to hide, and what to focus on are probably the most striking things. The fact that nothing is ever explained to the reader--the narrator essentially assumes that the reader already knows everything about the world they're in--that is something that I have seen before, but never so clean and effortless as this. Information in this story is, rather than explained, only discovered, through little snippets and puzzle pieces and a lot of thought and reflection on the part of the reader.
Because of this, among other things, the book steers almost entirely clear of its own setting and plot, almost. Yes, it's set in a world (present-time alternate universe or future-time, that is never stated) where clones grow up as "students" and become "carers" before they make "donations" and finally complete (die). But is the word clone ever mentioned? Once, maybe twice. And there is nothing, none of the cliché action-packed adventures of clones escaping, rebelling, meeting their "normal" counterparts (or "possibles" as they're called in this), or in general resisting at all the lives they are forced to lead.
Instead, the reader is led through a reflection, almost a study, of the protagonist(Kathy)'s memories, most particularly surrounding her relationship with her two closest friends, Ruth and Tommy. The curiosity and worry that they experienced about their lives and their futures was examined through how it affected each of them individually and how they acted around each other, rather than through any possibilities of change.
Even the last little mission that Kathy and Tommy go on is based on rumours spread through the centres and cottages, and they go straight to the only authority they know to see if it's possible--and are hardly surprised or even disappointed when they discover it isn't. There is never even a consideration of the possibility of leaving it all and living a normal life somewhere--the thought never even enters their heads (the best they can hope for--the rumour--is a few extra years of peace and quiet before beginning their donations). And that makes the reader think a lot about the characters--particularly Kathy--and whether they are doing this of their own free will, and, if someone were to suggest the idea of leaving it all behind, would they try to escape?
It also, obviously, has a lot of moral implications, which is clearly one of the themes, what with Hailsham's focus on creativity to prove that the students do in fact have souls, and are therefore, in fact, human. But although that is a theory occasionally discussed between Kathy and Tommy and confirmed by Miss Emily, it is never really delved into and brought out into the open, and it doesn't really seem to bother the main characters very much. It is all left to the reader to decide what they think is right and wrong.
And nothing, really, is resolved in the end, which I think causes a bigger impact than any other story set in a similar world could have. Because we are left knowing that Kathy will soon be called to become a donor, and that she won't even think to resist or try to change anything, and she will probably just go on thinking and mulling over the memories of her friends and of Hailsham, right to the end. And we know that she is okay with that--like she, somehow, always has been. We are left to ask ourselves if we are okay with it.