Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Book reviews

I read two books last week, and these reviews contain spoilers (but not major ones), so be warned.

1. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards, is a novel whose entire plot is hinged upon one moment. In 1964, a set of twins are born with only three people in the room: the doctor and father, the wife and mother, who is unconscious, and the nurse. The baby boy is born healthy, but the doctor quickly recognizes the signs of Downs Syndrome in the baby girl. He hands her off to the nurse and gives her the address of a home to take the baby to, and when his wife regains consciousness, he tells her that the baby girl was born dead. Nowadays, such an action seems unbelievably cruel, but, in those times, this attitude towards Downs Syndrome were more common, and the doctor believed he was doing what was "best for everyone." Instead of following the doctor's orders, the nurse takes the baby girl, moves out of town, and raises her as her own daughter. The story follows the two families over the passing decades, and one sees how the outcome of the doctor's decision destroys one life and rejuvenates another.

2. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is the story of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three English children who grow up in an elite private school. Right away, the reader realizes that something deeper and more sinister is going on. They are not normal children, but clones created to serve as organ donors once they reach adulthood. Their lives are planned out for them- they will become "carers" until they begin their "donations," and after four donations, they "complete." Their true fates are never openly discussed, and instead the Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up with a heartbreaking innocence. Once I figured out the whole cloning business, the plot felt a little bit like a one-trick pony and reminded me of the movie The Island, but the writing style, depth, and interaction among the characters was enough to keep me interested. Kathy, the narrator, is a keen observer of others, and always looking for the deeper meanings behind the words and actions of her friends, especially Ruth. I was impressed by how accurately the male author captures the tenuous, intense, and competitive friendships many girls have during their early teenage years. The one unanswered question the book left me with is why they accept their fate instead of trying to escape it or fight it.

I enjoyed both of these books but didn't particularly love either one of them. 7 out of 10 for both on the Eileen scale.

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