Beauty and the Beast comes to modern Manhattan in Alex Flinn's Beastly. When rich and popular Kyle Kingston chooses to embarrass a werido classmate at a school dance, he realizes that he's tangling with magic just a little too late to save himself. The weird girl is really a witch who curses Kyle to life as a beast unless he can find a girl to love him within two years. His famous (and famously handsome) newscaster father essentially banishes his newly horrifying offspring to Brooklyn and Kyle gives up on any hope of breaking the curse. Instead, he changes his name to Adrian, becomes obsessed with his greenhouse of roses, spends all his time watching the world go by from the top story window or from a magic mirror left by the witch, and lives like a recluse with only his blind tutor and the Colombian maid for company. He's set to live out his days in this pattern, reading books and hiding from the world, until one night when he catches a drugged-up thief in his greenhouse. In exchange for his life, the junkie offers his daughter, Lindy, to the beast. When Adrian looks at the girl through his magic mirror, he recognizes her as a smart scholarship student from his old school and believes she might be his last chance at breaking the spell... plus, anyone would be better off away from a father willing to trade his daughter to some kind of monster. Adrian prepares for Lindy's arrival... and unsurprisingly to everyone except Adrian, she's not exactly thrilled to be there or have anything to do with her new jailer. Don't worry, though. This is paranormal romance. Love will blossom as sure as the roses.

If you know the Beauty and the Beast story, you know the outcome here, but Beastly's appeal rests in the modern setting with updates aplenty. While banished to Brooklyn (and as a Brooklynite, I suppose I could take offense at this, but whatever, it's better here anyway), Kyle/Adrian's world expands through the internet and between chapters, the readers sees a "transcript" of chats that he participates in with other magically afflicted individuals (including a mermaid looking to become human, a frog that needs to get kissed, and so on); unsurprisingly, it reads like many teenage chat room transcripts though perhaps that's what makes it a refreshingly different addition (though they don't go on for ages, at least, unlike most teenage chats). The reader gets to see selfish Kyle become thoughtful Adrian, a kid who devours books and comes to care about those around him, focusing on their needs and ultimately yielding to Lindy's request to return to take care of her father. His transformation is somewhat unbelievably quick, but Flinn does a nice job of capturing Kyle/Adrian's feelings of isolation without wallowing in it. I did like the fact that Kyle recognized New Yorkers will pretty much ignore anything, so he can wander around a little bit without eliciting too much suspicion. I also rather appreciated that Flinn made some follow-up observations post-happy-ending-transformation where Lindy actually was somewhat uncomfortable with her new handsome boyfriend, given that it would spur her own self-esteem issues.

Flinn makes the injecting of the fairy tale into the real world look easy-- and while critics might argue that this requires some extremes of reality (an ultra-wealthy father to provide a brownstone/castle for his beastly son, a junkie father willing to trade his daughter for his own life, etc.), one might also point out that fairy tales themselves are geared towards rewarding those who do deal with extremes. Most of the deserving souls in fairy tales are poor or otherwise downtrodden... or are wealthy folk who need to appreciate what truly makes one rich (and very little is magical in the middle class). One rather uncomfortable detail is the blind tutor, whose handicap is unintentionally likened to a curse that can be lifted... it makes the tutor come off as someone who isn't whole and needs to be fixed. It's hard to make a perfect transition of all fairy tale details into the real world, I suppose. a

All in all, Beastly is a pleasing little volume whose value rests primarily in the idea of it all. It's a quick read -- and anything longer would have certainly been to its detriment -- and it's a sweet little amusement. It's slated to be made into a movie (released March 2011), but the trailer suggests significant alterations were made to the details. In the end, though, no matter how the little things change, it's a tale as old as time... (Sorry. I had to.)


Warriors: Into the Fire

Rusty, a common house cat, decides to abandon his "kittypet" life when he's invited to become an apprentice warrior with Thunderclan, one of several clans of feral cats that hunt for their food and fight for their territory. Yeah, that's right. Clans of fighting cats. I think we have to chalk this one up to "things adults will probably never quite get" and accept it, but if you want more detail, here we go. To describe this book, I'm going to imagine a conversation with a friend of mine who would take a good amount of joy in subtly mocking me about this book while asking more and more questions so he might relish the ridiculousness.

Um... Alana? I notice that you're reading a book with a cat on the cover. Now, it doesn't look like nonfiction, nor does the cat appear to be intended ironically... would you care to comment? Yeah... this is the first book from that insanely lucrative "Warriors" series that's so popular with the kids these days.

Oh really? What's the series about? Well, it's about clans of cats who live by a warrior code and battle for survival in the wilderness. Imagine warrior knights loyal to a king... but with fur... and tails. The first one is from the perspective of a house cat named Rusty who joins up with the Thunderclan and proves himself worthy of becoming a warrior as he protects the clan and his friends.

... Seriously? Yes, seriously.

So all the characters are cats. ... Does Rusty fight along side Fluffy, Rocketship, and Mittens? Actually, once Rusty joins the clan, his name becomes Firepaw. And all the clan cats have these double names like Tigerclaw or Spottedleaf or Bluestar.

... Are you making this up? I promise you, I'm not making this up.

Okaaay. I'll admit, I've heard of the series, but I don't think I really realized everything that it would entail. Get it? En-tail? You're hilarious.

There's a lot of these books, aren't there? There are approximately a zillion books in this series.

A zillion? A zillion books about anthropomorphic fighting cats? Who on earth is reading these? In the eight to twelve age bracket, it's more a question of who isn't reading them. It's a series that actually appeals to both girls and boys and here's why. One: it's about kittehs (which means all girls will read this). Two: they fight (which means lots of boys will read this). Three: have you ever heard of a little thing called Redwall by Brian Jacques? Now all the geeks will read this.

Hey! Don't knock Redwall! I'm not knocking Redwall at all, because Redwall is awesome, but you have to admit... while Redwall fans were not necessarily popular as children, they are voracious readers and if you had run out of books about mice, otters, and voles and you saw this series sitting right in front of your beloved Brian Jacques... well, cats aren't looking so crazy now, are they?

Well played... to the point where I'm wishing I had come up with this idea. I could be making bank. What mastermind conceived of this evil plan? The author is listed as Erin Hunter, but "Erin Hunter" is the pen name used by four women who write/edit this series. The idea was originally suggested to the editor by the publisher, who wanted a series about cats, and it all took off from there. The surname "Hunter" stems from the combined desire to come up with something that fits the series (and "Hunter" works pretty nicely) and the goal to tap into the Redwall market by simple shelf placement. It also means you don't break up the series by an author's last name if they were to all be shelved according to the individual author.

Okay, but really, while the book premise might seem wildly ridiculous to adults, I can totally see the appeal for children. Epic stories, a return to tales rather knightly topics of honor and loyalty, a huge cast of characters... yes, it's talking animals but the plots aren't focused on silly adventures. There's actual fighting and death, which means kids don't feel like this is some pandering story about kitty-cats where everything turns out okay in the end and Miss Whiskers is just sleeping. Young readers learn moral lessons about being dedicated to achieving their goals and rising above taunts and prejudice.

I'll admit that I may have, at times, wanted to insert various lolcats as illustrative aids and shout "Thundercats! Hoooo!" when the Thunderclan went into battle. My significant other refers to this as the "lazer cat" series. And no, there's no way I would be caught on the subway reading this book by another adult but that's the thing... I'm not the intended market; kids are, and as long as they're entertained, I'm totally fine with any epic series that keeps them reading. Sure, "Warriors" doesn't seem quite as literary as Redwall, though it's gotten nominated for various awards, and there's a really large cast of characters, but that only seems to invest kids in learning everything to conquer it all and diving into this new world. It's not another planet; the cats don't wear clothes. A kid could read this and very easily look at the family cat in a whole new light. Yes, the cats seem to have an impressive knowledge of herbal lore at their paw-tips, but to just injure cats in battle and then leave them to fester and die would be far too gruesome. Rusty/Firepaw is a fairly likable hero who certainly grows in skill and logic as the book progresses. His eventual path towards leading Thunderclan (which I'm guessing at right now) seems pretty clear. This is obviously set up for a series, but this has to have surpassed the wildest expectations of the publisher, given the huge fan base and large number of participating members on the fan message boards.

Here's the thing. Unlike some other young reader books, I can't really say that I would recommend this to other adults -- there seems to be an age limit for the obsession. Honestly, I would suspect there's an age limit from any true pleasure taken from these. After a certain age, if you're going to read about anthropomorphic animals, you want a little more from them. However, Warriors could prove to be a key stepping stone from much simpler young reader books to other, more intense fantasy worlds and giant epics. Hey, it might even help to improve the attention span of children if they manage to read all these books and remember the family trees and so on. Clearly Warriors has lots of fans and despite my good-natured teasing, this old-fogy can see how kids today might find this to be a truly captivating series.

Oh, and one last thing. Thundercats! Hooooo!

Okay. I finished writing this review and then went out to dinner with my significant other. We sat down and almost immediately, my significant other's eyes locked on something beyond my elbow.
"That's yours, right?"
"That." With his head, he motioned for me to turn and look. Behind us, an elderly couple sat and beside the older woman, a copy of Warriors sat with a bookmark in it. It was book six of the first series. x"I love it," she insisted when we asked. "I have cats and I'm a big animal lover. I think these books are wonderful." So I yield the point. Evidently adults do read these books for their own enjoyment. She wasn't even reading it to engage in a shared interest with a grandchild (as had been my hypothesis). It takes all kinds, evidently.


Norwegian Wood

So, clearly I'm missing something. The book that made the list for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die and that reviews seem to rave about can't possibly be the book I spent about three years slogging through, can it? I purchased this as an audiobook on Audible in late 2007 and made multiple attempts to listen and be captivated until this year when I finally decided it was not worth the space on my ipod and I just needed to make it happen. So over a series of trips (that always left me feeling disgruntled upon arrival) and afternoons knitting in the park, I finally finished Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood this past week, and for a book that is full of rather passive people, I felt pretty strongly about it. Prior to the last hour of listening, my review could have been summarized by: "Sigh. Really? Fine." After the last hour, I switched entirely to: "What the f--k?" When you can wrap up your entire review with two words and an expletive... well... unless it's "damn, that's awesome," then you have a problem. I'll try to write a non-biased description of the plot (but I make no promises) and I warn you now that I will summarize to the end of the book -- honestly, you're not reading this one for plot, as everything is painfully predictable, so I wouldn't worry if I were you. Then again, I also don't recommend reading this one at all, so it's your call.

Originally published in 1987, Norwegian Wood is told from the perspective of Toru Watanabe, a Japanese man looking back on his early days at university in Tokyo. In high school, Watanabe's best friend Kizuki committed suicide on his seventeenth birthday without giving much indication as to his intentions to either his beloved girlfriend, Naoko, or best friend Watanabe. Some time later, after Watanabe begins school in Tokyo, he and Naoko meet and begin to spend time together, finding some consolation in each other's company for the loss they still feel, and they come to love each other. (Or perhaps in reality, Watanabe wants to protect fragile Naoko as she quietly comes apart at the seams and they call this love.) They sleep together once on her twentieth birthday when Naoko's in a particularly unstable mental and emotional mood, then Naoko leaves Tokyo to commit herself to a sanatorium. (Presumably it wasn't the sex that did it, but the timing does make one wonder.) Meanwhile, Watanabe befriends a charismatic and yet callous fellow student named Nagasawa, who shares a love of literature with Watanabe, yet their ideas of the world are at odds. Nagasawa is older and a diplomacy student, with his future career mapped out, and this suits him just fine. Nagasawa's influence leads Watanabe to be a bit of a cad himself, particularly on nights spent on the town as they sleep with girls (including one incident where they swapped halfway through the night). Watanabe never really approves of Nagasawa's behavior, particularly as it pertains to his beautiful and loyal girlfriend Hatsumi, and yet all Watanabe can eventually do is stop going out on Saturday nights with Nagasawa. Lest you think that Watanabe was at least remaining emotionally faithful to Naoko while she's in the sanatorium, he also develops a friendship with an outgoing and outspoken girl from one of his drama classes named Midori, and though he still believes he's in love with Naoko, he rather leads both himself and Midori along in their "friendship," indulging her cheekily explicit conversations and making a promise to Midori's dying father to take care of her. They go drinking and to seedy theaters to watch really dirty porno flicks, and Midori is constantly talking... which can be annoying, but perhaps more annoying is the fact that Marukami thinks she's an independent and strong young woman all because she can care for aging family members and wear a super-short skirt. Her own feelings of self-worth are questionable and even if she knows that (on paper) she's a worthwhile young woman, she still falls for a man in a doomed relationship with another girl that only has the potential to taint their own relationship. Beyond all of Watanabe's personal issues, there's also a growing sense of revolutionary discontent at the University, which Watanabe largely absents himself from, yet cannot escape completely as he lives in a boys' dormitory for a large part of the novel.

Eventually, Watanabe gets his own place and wallows in his isolation. He does go to visit Naoko twice, meeting her roommate Reiko, a cheerful, middle-aged woman who jokes about how old she is and plays many instruments, including the guitar. At Naoko's request, she frequently plays the Beatles, including Naoko's favorite, "Norwegian Wood." While visiting, Watanabe plays confidante to both women, listening to Naoko talk about her older sister's suicide and listening to Reiko tell her own story of how she lost hold of her sanity twice -- once after buckling under the pressure from being a piano prodigy, and again after a young piano student challenges Reiko's sexual orientation and then spreads rumors that Reiko sexually assaulted her. The book is surprisingly explicit when it comes to sex, whether that be Reiko's account of the young woman performing oral sex on her, Naoko's description of how she could never get wet with Kizuki, or Watanabe talking about what he and Naoko do together (though each time he visits, Naoko brings him to climax without them actually engaging in sexual intercourse and without Naoko experiencing any pleasure). Watanabe pushes Naoko into thinking about leaving the sanatorium to come and live with him, where he can look after her, but Naoko only says she will consider it. After returning to Tokyo, Watanabe and Midori have issues with their friendship (Watanabe is a bit of an idiot when it comes to alerting people to his movements, as he tends to exist in his head a great deal) and eventually recognize that it's more than that. Watanabe now has to deal with the fact that he loves both women, yet understands his relationship with Midori is far more sustainable than that with Naoko, who seems to be getting worse and refuses to suggest another date when he can visit, claiming she wants to be all well when he sees her again. When he writes to seek advice from Reiko, she tells him that if he loves Midori, he should be with her, but he shouldn't yet mention it to Naoko for fear of harming her recovery.

Unsurprisingly, Naoko's condition worsens and when she appears to make at least a small recovery, that's only a precursor to her suicide. She hangs herself in the woods near the sanatorium, the same method used by her sister, after agreeing to go to a more intensive hospital for treatment and her only note is to ask that her clothes be given to Reiko. Watanabe attends the funeral and then disappears from Tokyo to live as a vagabond for a few weeks, yet this does nothing to help him heal, and he eventually returns. Reiko leaves the sanatorium and visits Watanabe, posing as his aunt and yet they sleep together before she leaves to take a job teaching music in an isolated place. (We'll also add Hatsumi, the long-suffering girlfriend of Nagasawa and ideal of womanhood, to the list of women too fragile to handle the world, as she also commits suicide a few years after the main events of the novel.) After Naoko's death and Reiko's visit, Watanabe wants to reach out to Midori, whom he's all but ignored following these events (and to whom he said precious little about his whole situation or Naoko's mental issues, save that he was in a complicated relationship), and the novel ends with him finally attempting to call her and Midori giving a somewhat chilly reception. Of course, what's irritating is that she's perfectly justified in her cold tone, yet she's not hanging up on him and persists in listening. There is no resolution here, only the open question of whether they managed to patch things up and my personal hope that Midori told him to piss off.

In general, I found this novel to be slow and dull, easy to put aside and hard to trudge through for the sake of completion. I didn't like any of the characters and I particularly didn't like our narrator, Watanabe. Sure, he might give a perfectly clear account of most things but this colored him as an incredibly detached young man, without real emotions or at least with ridiculously simplistic ones. He seems to have no passions and no personality. He blandly wanders through life, making a mess of things by not doing much of anything or making real choices, and yet we're supposed to identify with him and feel sorry for him? We know from the get-go that Naoko's a lost cause and her death will be a big event, yet we must endure her wilting-lily existence and uncharacteristically open talk about her body's inability to be aroused. Every woman in the novel is held up on a bit of a pedestal... and part of her perfection (despite their small differences) is that they really do need help at all times to stand on their own two feet... preferably strong male help. They seem to be nothing without being defined by male relationships and only Midori has personality (though really, all this "personality" consists of is a constant chatter coupled with an eager interest in discussing sex, though usually it's twisted sex). I like Reiko for the fact that she's pleasant... and indeed, she might seem to be the least stereotypically crazy person, as she only talks about the times she "snapped" and otherwise simply seems frightened of reentering a world that has gone on without her. On the whole, the characters just didn't seem very multifaceted and I know one need not like the narrator of a novel, but he should at least learn something during the course of the novel, right? Something should have happened to him, and yet I'm not sure if anything really did. These all seem to just remain as memories of his youth and since we know practically nothing about the adult Watanabe, the reader is forced to just accept everything as it is, with the knowledge that Watanabe did manage to at least get older.

I just don't get it... or rather, I think I get it, but I just don't want it. Was I supposed to survive on landscape descriptions alone? Was the explicit and detached talk about sex supposed to be revolutionary? Naoko's was awkward, ditto for Reiko, and Midori's seemed unconvincing in the supposed eagerness to go on about it. Was I supposed to swoon for the Beatles being used as a cultural touchstone in Japan? Obviously Murakami was basing the story on bits of the Beatles' song, pulling particular phrases to match so that we have a man remembering a girl, an intimate and yet awkward encounter, and an abrupt departure... but the Beatles have more emotive beauty in a single line of verse than this entire book put together. Sure, it's interesting that Murakami clearly was inspired by a song to write a book, but it didn't work out well. Clearly he spent a lot of time thinking about these characters and certain reviews that I've read suggest that the book isn't exactly autobiographical but Murakami drew heavily from his own past for the character of Watanabe. That fact makes me feel even worse about the book because Watanabe is the single worst part of it... okay, the second worst part; the first worst part is the overall depiction of such simpering women that shows Murakami can't understand a female perspective.

My emotional response tells me to give this book one star, but I'll tack on one more for the sake of the Beatles-inspired idea and certain passages where Murakami describes scenes with detail and care. I'm not sure who recommended this book to me originally, but rest assured, I will be hunting them down and making them pay for inflicting this colossally frustrating experience upon me.


Never Let Me Go

I'd been holding off on reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go because I knew it was going to be good and I wanted to wait for the right time (hey, sometimes it's important to time books correctly when you know they're going to be depressing and yet sadly lovely). Well, the right time didn't come along so much as the movie got released and I didn't want to live in fear of something being given away and spoiling it all. So I dove in to this melancholy tale about growing up, surviving friendships, and understanding that the world is not fair... in a far more colossal sense for these characters than we could ever imagine for ourselves.

It's a hard novel to talk about without giving away something, so I feel I was right to read the book when I did (aka before the movie's wide release). As I don't want to ruin the plot for anyone who doesn't wish to know more about what we're dealing with, I'll put some greater detail and some personal thoughts on the big reveal after the asterisks. Up until then, if it all sounds a bit vague, well, then you'll understand.

The novel is told from the perspective of Kathy H., a woman aware that a new chapter of her life is about to begin but who is constantly drawn to thinking of the past... in particular, she remembers her own life in terms of her relationships with Ruth and Tommy. Ruth is Kathy's lifelong frenemy... a best friend capable of deep sympathy and just when Kathy lets down her guard, Ruth will do something cruel... for only a best friend is capable of inflicting certain kinds of cruelty. Of course, then the pattern of love and betrayal repeats itself again and again, until one day it doesn't. Tommy is the only boy that Kath seems to befriend, understanding him better than Ruth, and there's always the question of whether perhaps it should have been Tommy and Kath that should have gotten together. After growing up at Halisham, a rather idyllic-seeming English country school, and embarking upon lives outside of its sheltering walls, Kath reflects on everything that has come to pass between the three of them, from moments of deep camaraderie to times of intense turmoil and sorrow. Their world is not simple and yet perhaps its deep lessons are as simple as those in the lives of the rest of us.

Ishiguro writes of England in a way that seems to make the whole country become incredibly vivid, as though you were experiencing a chilly English fall, with a nip in the air as you walked a long distance in your Wellingtons and a pullover. More than that, the whole mood of the novel seems to reflect this... a feeling of transition tinged with sadness and decay, complete with a steady descent into inevitable and hopeless winter. Let me warn you now that if you're a person who cannot deal with melancholy reveries, then perhaps this book is not for you. It hinges upon the reader's ability to sympathize with the characters, to feel deep sadness and to make up for their lack of fight with the reader's own feelings of anger and indignation at a system that goes unquestioned.

One small issue I might have is that by the time any important information is completely revealed, the reader has long since guessed it. The novel makes expert use of ambiguous and cryptic phrasing. Hints are dropped via innocuous words that something is very wrong, indeed, and yet is known about on a grander level, so the students are left to piece together bits of knowledge to form a coherent picture. Deep undercurrents of tension are everywhere, with the sickening feeling that we're headed towards inevitable anguish. Kath and Tommy worry about being overheard, yet take the chance to meet and decipher odd things that they, themselves, have overheard. Yet just as their curiosity blooms, they either loose interest or find a reason to back away, uncertain if they're ready for the ultimate revelation. The reader, then, has figured things out by the time bald statements of fact are made and so one is left with a sense of, "Yes, and what else?" with a hope for something more... which is perhaps fitting for characters who somewhat know the truth and yet wonder if there isn't something else left unsaid for so much in their lives has been learned by drips of seemingly secret knowledge.

The title comes from a song (fictional) on a tape that Kath owns. While the song probably refers to a lover, Kath thinks of a mother holding a long-hoped for child; yet beyond this, an observer of Kath comes up with an entirely different interpretation as she watches this young girl dance alone to the music. Ishiguro seems here to emphasize the many perspectives of situations, clearly imagined in the book as a whole by telling a story from the perspective of one who is not a large player in the events of the world, and is simply one small being living out her life. The language is lovely and the plight of these three entwined creatures is quite distressing, indeed, and if you're anything like me, there will also be an unease and frustration at the lack of action. So much is accepted as fate... a sad, awful fate, but fate nonetheless that appears as though it cannot be altered. At first, I wondered how Ishiguro could write such a story without any apparent thought of changing their destinies, and yet now I feel that his goal is to inspire the reader with such emotions, to bring the discussion off the page and into the reader's own life as it never was in Kath's or Ruth's or Tommy's. Against a backdrop of larger ideas and scientific discoveries, Kathy's account of her own quiet life creates such heartbreaking poignancy that the reader will not likely forget her story or the questions it raises.

This next section includes some spoilers, so if you haven't read the book, I urge you to turn back now.

The reader spends the book gleaning bits of information dropped at strategic moments from Kathy and by the time she comes out and says the big secret of everything, the reader has long since figured it out. When the story finally states that all of the children at Halisham are clones and are destined to be harvested for their organs, the reader is left thinking, "Yes, yes, but what else?" Well, there isn't anything else. This experience of the reader is echoed in the characters themselves, who vaguely understand their fate, and yet there are small bits of hope that there might be something else left for them, a mythical "deferral." The rumor seems real, for multiple people have heard it whispered that people who prove they are in love can receive a deferral from their donations and have a few years together. No one knows whether this is true, but it doesn't stop the rumor from cropping up again and again... the manifestation of creatures who wonder if they cannot change what life has in store... that perhaps they are special and they can be an exception to the rule.

Of course, the big question asked by any reader isn't how can they defer this, it's more how the hell can they get out of it altogether? But not a single character within the book asks this question, human or clone. Not Ruth, not Kathy, not Miss Emily, not even Tommy... but at least Tommy seemed to experience anger over everything, even if he does come to accept things. With movies like The Island or other science fiction tales in my head, it seemed incredibly strange to me that there was no mention of a safe-guard or something that ensured these clones would meet their destined role on the operating table. No "Oh sorry, you are all implanted with a tracking chip, so if you tried to run off and assimilate into society, you'd be found right quick." No "You have no skills to deal with life in the real world... (except if you tried to hole up somewhere academic where your ineptitude for every day things would be fairly standard)." Not a word on the idea as to whether or not they could "pass" as normal human. Nothing about groups lobbying for the rights of clones. Only the fleeting idea, easily extinguished, about a deferral for those in love. Only pain and acceptance. It is mentioned at one time that society in a larger sense could never go back to a world without the harvesting of organs from clones, as this enabled horrible diseases to, essentially, be eradicated.

Within Never Let Me Go is a world that chooses not to look on the face of clones and insists they have no souls, so it's okay that they're raised for this fate, like cattle. Is it idealistic of me to assume that our world would not stand for such things? It's actually quite a frightening thought when you have to put faith in your own world on matters like this when other atrocities go unchecked and people die each day from preventable causes. The clones are sheltered and cared for with the utmost attention to their health. Halisham is revolutionary in its attempts to provide an idyllic life for the clones before they meet their fates, like free-range chickens with art classes. Such emphasis on creativity might be working towards proving the existence of their souls, but when their champions aren't quite sure about it, then how can the clones ever hope to have free choice in their lives? Even Miss Lucy, the outspoken teacher dismissed so quickly, was really only insistent that the children be openly told about their purpose in life... she only thought it was cruel to not be more transparent about the facts, not that the facts were abhorrent. And make no mistake, this is a kind of horror story, even if the reality is couched in vague terminology. The whole system of carers and donors, where one is forced to watch others endure what will soon be their own fate... the phrase "completed" substituted in for "died"... a process where the donor gives one organ at a time until the fourth "donation" when, clearly, all other organs are harvested. (As a side note, I spent a great deal of time musing on what the third organ could be that is taken from a donor where they can still get up and move around. A kidney, part of a liver and what? While musing aloud to my significant other on this topic and the book in general, I inadvertently stumbled into one of his childhood nightmares and was firmly requested to never discuss the idea of clones and organ donation again. So clearly, Ishiguro has at least one person who would file this novel in the "horror" section.) Even the idea of Kath becoming an excellent carer who is allowed to choose some of the donors she cares for has a strangely twisted element of kindness... indulging the fact that she has emotions and cares for people, yet still persisting in the system which will eventually run its course for her, too.

Of course, I put my emphasis on this topic because I've been thinking about this since I finished the book, which means it stuck with me, which means that it presented some really fascinating ideas. Ishiguro creates a science fiction world and yet I imagine few people would think of this as science fiction -- namely because he's not trying to focus on the alternate world realities so much as he's dealing with personal pain and acceptance, relationships that stretch throughout our lives (no matter how short), and the various ways a person deals with impossible circumstances and death... even when it's the knowledge of their own. Overall, I really enjoyed the book... perhaps even more so after reading it and taking time to reflect. For such a slim novel, it speaks volumes about what it means to be human and what matters in our very short lives. I highly recommend it and if you have any insight as to what that third organ could be (and no, it didn't seem to be eyes), let me know.