on the cover page, TIME declares it as "the best novel of the decade." for the first two chapters i was not convinced, almost disappointed, with the mundane introduction of the character whose job and background are described very vaguely. the language used is so simple i sometimes had to go back a few lines because i took the sentences for granted, it almost had the same effect with lexically dense sentences on me. but also because of its straightforward quality, i felt most comfortable when reading the book, it felt very intimate. the narrative also made me aware of the possible subjectivities of the main character, we may not get the complete look, a bird eye view of the whole story. (not that i mind..)
the system which the characters live by is revealed little by little, the truth is sometimes assumed to be already acknowledged by the readers. in the book, this happens to the characters when they are raised in Hailsham, a bounded territory where they spend their childhood and teenage years in. here the students are claimed to be "told and not told", somewhere in their unconsciousness they are aware of the system, but unable to recall/bring them to the surface unless they are asked to. this is the state kathy assumes us to be in as well; hence, references to the system in the book are constructed in such a way that they are regarded as a normal thing, as if this is not the first time the readers are being introduced to their world. just what their system and their world are would be a moderate spoiler for the book, although i have been told that if you have watched the trailer, you have successfully bagged a very big proportion of the whole explanation.
like what i have said before, in the first two chapters i had been a tad disappointed, but at the end of chapter three the narrative began to nudge me
Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves—about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside—but hadn’t understood what any of it meant…
…so you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you—of how you were brought into this world and why—and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.
after finishing this book i often think that it was not the system or the big concept that really enticed me, it was how human relationships are captured in this book, the very essence of them. for instance kathy often goes back and says to us (especially in the beginning when they are still students) something like 'of course, at that time i didn't think from her point of view…', 'if only i could see from the bigger picture at that time...' indicating her previous lack of interpersonal ability, her previously skewed perspective, and then they began to change gradually. i think it happens to us too.
another aspect the book zooms in is, how some conversations have some effects on kathy's relationships, with ruth, with tommy, with her other friends, how important these intimate talks are. oftentimes kathy just walks it off, she does not want to argue or tries to sort things out because it is too complicated to explain the truth. but in the end where kathy has a proper talk with them, the issue gets settled. sometimes it is settled just because they understand each other well, understand that the other party never means any harm in the first place.
the book has a very tranquil atmosphere, calm and peaceful, and whenever i think that any of the characters is going to do something extreme, like committing suicide or harming other people (considering the influence of previous books i have read, where impulsivity often takes its toll) it always turns out to be a not very serious case, which can get a little crazy sometimes, but realistic. it is just a way of releasing their burdens, like how tommy often has a tantrum in Hailsham and nearing the end of the book, he just screams to himself in a muddy field, flings his fists and kicks his legs out with kathy.
i really like the book. it does not try to do anything to you, it just points out some lost importance of things and perhaps, helps you place yourself among others in various kinds of relationship.