This was both an easy and extremely hard read.
It was easy because it's superbly written and compelling. I couldn't put it down and got through it in two sittings – if you don't count the number of times I had to set it aside for a few minutes, just to catch my breath. It was very, very hard at times to keep reading in anticipation of the distressing events to come.
We’re told at the beginning that the setting is “England, late 1990s", but you immediately know that there’s something unusual in this England, with the casual mentions of “donors” and “carers”. The narration is set up as a kind of conversation between the protagonist, Kathy, and the reader, so there's an assumed knowledge of her world and her place in it. Of course, we have no clue, but it infuses the slow build to the big reveal(s) with a kind of dread as we, like the characters as children, have been "told, but not told".
The plot centres around Kathy’s relationship with her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy, and their complicated love for each other, made even more delicate by time - when it’s wrong, when it passes, and when it’s very, very limited. The characters seem very much aware of the shadow of time looming over them, but that doesn’t stop them from making mistakes, from hurting each other, and from holding back from what they want. For all their love and creativity, these things, more than anything, are the most forceful evidence of their very real humanity.
This is not what you would describe as an enjoyable book. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that it’s a tear-jerker – and then some. In fact, in certain places, it’s downright unpleasant. But that just shows how powerful it is. You really FEEL for the characters so that, on more than one occasion, I actually felt that my own heart was breaking.
- The story stays with you for long after you've closed the book (warning: it is a mistake to finish this immediately before bedtime). At first I thought it was extremely depressing and sent the message that life was pointless and death inevitable. It certainly makes you consider these things. But after thinking about it I came to realise that it's actually about the opposite: yes, death is inevitable, but that just makes what you do with your life all the more important. You have to seize what you want now and not wait until it's too late.
- On a slightly shallower note, I hated Ruth. Kathy obviously loves her dearly, but she spends a lot more time focusing on her less than admirable traits and actions. Which is understandable, given everything that happens. Ahem...
- A lot of reviews - especially regarding the movie - have brought up the issue of why nobody tries to escape their fate. The thought did cross my mind, but I think when you consider the fact that they've been brought up their whole lives with their destiny/purpose drilled into their minds, it is realistic that they don't really consider running away. They have no families (except each other), nowhere to go, no real preparation for the outside world - no options, really. I said it was sad, didn't I?
- Not having much medical knowledge, I'd like to know how the third and fourth donations were possible. It wasn't a majorly important point for what the book was trying to achieve, but it did make me curious.
Again, having already watched the movie trailer prior to reading the book, I had Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Andrew Garfield as Tommy and Keira Knightley as Ruth stuck in my head. Which was pretty much perfect anyway, because I LOVE Carey and Andrew (to be honest, they're what attracted me to the book/movie to start with) and I don't particularly like Keira, so that worked for Ruth. The only thing that bugs me is Carey's weird mullet 'do in the trailer/stills, but she's so gorgeous I'll let it slide:
On a related note, this little clip made me so happy and (almost) pulled me out of the utter sadness I felt after finishing the book. Just. So. Adorable.