Firstly, can I start off by saying "Wow". I read this in a single day, because it's impossible to leave off. Such a unique story and a beautifully written book.
What's so impressive about Ishiguro's writing is his ability to drip feed you tiny pieces of information at a time. A single piece of information never gives the game away- but together, we start to understand what is happening. This technique, the importance of things said, things understood and things withheld plays an important part in the plot and leads up to a shocking revelation about half way through. Because we experience the withholding of information as readers, initially struggling to work out what seems to be odd about the apparently idyllic countryside school, the behaviour and the manipulation of the pupils at Halisham seems more and more believable.
Essentially, the book is about a group of children at boarding school and their coming to terms with going their separate ways at the end of it. Narrated retrospectively by Kathy, an ex student and former carer, we hear rose-tinted sotories of the school's Guardians efforts to encourage creativity within their charges, of the petty squabbles and tribulations of teenage life and eventually, of the pupils' gradual realisation of their purpose in life and their role in the future.
What I feel is unusual about this novel is its apparent lack of agenda. Many 'apocalyptic' or alternate future novels are inherently preachy, whether it's cautionary tales about climate change, over population, the indiscriminate use of the world's resources. The author is almost always offering us a warning. Ishiguro writes of organ-farming, genetic manipulation, unhindered scientific discovery and the way it affects various people without appearing to reveal any opinions of his own. Never casting judgement or making any comment. These things simply are. It is left to the reader to moralise and to consider the emotional, medical and ethical implications of this world.
I don't want to spoil this, but I'll leave you with some questions it raises:
Do we ever really think about where the things that we need come from? Do we feel better when we don't know?
Aren't we all just living on borrowed time, really? None of us will live forever, how is knowing you have a definite expiration date worse than vaguely knowing you will have one eventually? (say, at the age of 86, or tragically, violently and unexpectedly at 31?)
Is artistic expression the best/only way to demonstrate the existence of a soul?
It will stay with you. It will tear your heart out. It will make you ask questions.