“I don’t know how it was where you were, but. . .”

Working my way through the novel, I’ve been intrigued by the way Kathy’s direct address of us—the readers—functions in what Darling has described as “reticent world-building.” The “hints [which] appear in Kathy’s vocabulary” (Darling) are strengthened by this direct address. For instance, early on Kathy says, “If you’re one of them (i.e., an able carer who doesn’t get the credit they deserve), I can understand how you might get resentful” (4). Perhaps more than her opening explanation regarding the trajectory and imminent conclusion of her career as a carer, this use of the “you” presumes the reader understands the world she is describing. Kathy even goes so far as to assume that we’ve heard the standard privileged-Hailshamian-carer-with-the-great-record tale more than she has (4).

One of the more subtle uses of direct address happens at the beginning of chapter 2: “I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we had to. . .” (13). This subtle combination of direct address and the memory does two things quite effectively. First, it interpellates the reader as someone who likely has a slightly different experience, but nevertheless has a shared understanding/memory of the way things were. Second, it increases our trust in Kathy’s—often fuzzy—narration of her memories.

By making these assumptions, strengthened through the use of direct address, Kathy draws us into her world, as Ishiguro quietly builds the novel’s world. These assumptions clear the way for us to focus on the specific memories and, more specifically, the objects of memory(i.e., Tommy’s favorite polo shirt, Ruth’s pencil case, and Kathy’s cassette) that drive the plot. I’m wondering how the use of direct address affects our trustworthiness of Kathy as the narrator? Does the more conversational tone make us more lenient towards the gaps in her memory? (Side note: Do Kathy’s numerous attempts to ensure us that Ruth and Tommy have recently corroborated and/or contested her memory enhance the conversational nature of the tone?)

One thought on ““I don’t know how it was where you were, but. . .””

  1. “Fuzzy” is a great way of describing Kathy’s narration—not only because of slight differences of experience between her recollections and those of Ruth/Tommy, but also because of the distracted way she tells her story. The backbone of this narrative (cloning, donations, etc.) always seems slightly unfocused (“Darling” refers to a “withholding”). This is partly because Kathy can’t seem to focus herself as she follows these “objects of memory,” no matter how far she wanders from the point at hand. “Anyway,” she interrupts herself (69). “But that’s not really what I want to talk about just now,” she reorients (45). Kathy—and by extension, her reader—can never quite focus. Even when regarding the gaps, we’re always looking a bit off to the side.

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