Changing States: Examining Postmodern concepts of adaptation in Ali Smith’s Hotel World and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

Still from the film of Never Let Me Go.
Still from the film of Never Let Me Go.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Ali Smith’s Hotel World are two novels that explore ideas of ghostliness and haunting. Smith’s work shows how the suicide of its protagonist continues to affect the living after her death, while the clones of Ishiguro’s novel are haunted by those of whom they are copies. In his article in the new issue of Postgraduate English, Alexander Abichou shows how these stories open up ideas about postmodernism. 

This article will examine two main areas of metatextuality in contemporary literature by carrying out a comparative analysis of Ali Smith’s Hotel World and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Firstly, it will examine the relation between postmodernity and spectrality. Secondly, it will investigate the ways that literary theories of adaptation can be applied to notions of the posthumous and the posthuman.

Never Let Me Go centres around the theme of cloning to disrupt traditional beliefs of the human as both origin and originator by portraying a group of schoolchildren whose identity as a clone is tied directly to their function as product customized for the very specific purpose of donating organs. In particular, it reveals an innate drive towards imitation and adaptation within humanity by exposing a community whose purpose of life is to find their original copy, learn how to be human through creating artwork and, having failed those tasks, die. Likewise, Hotel World uncovers a profound connection between the phantasmal and the postmodern as both exemplify a state of being that is both after itself and projected forward in which any stable ground for identity is removed in favour of a spectral, fragmented existence.

Both Smith and Ishiguro explore themes of forgotten identity and displaced subjectivity wherein the present is constantly haunted by past lives and characters must fight against the encroaching fear that their existence is nothing more than the reiteration of something already completed. To adapt is a form of appropriation. By indirectly living the lives of several subjects through the lens of a single person it is inevitable that the individual will be unable to separate ideas of autonomy and/or sovereignty from the traces that constitute them. Adaptation is driven by a need to be authentic which is characteristic of a being-unto-death because seeking to be original and, therefore, without precedent, is to exist free from the very body that gave it form.

This article is available to download free in issue 32 of our open access Postgraduate English journal, where you’ll also find a complete archive of research dating back to 2000.

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