You know how sometimes you read a book or an article or see a movie or a piece of art and it creeps you out and you really don't like it, but your mind just won't let it go? For, like, years? I'm guessing someone thinks that's the definition of great art.
I rarely recommend those types of things to anybody, though, because they're just so disturbing. Like the movie Match Point - saw it years ago and still can't shake it, but unlike that reviewer, I don't find "the gloom of random, meaningless existence" to be in any way "fun". Since I also can't figure out any kind of edifying nugget to pull out of the thing, I have to say it is a wickedly well-conceived movie but not one I would ever tell anyone to watch.
Then there's the movie The Magdalene Sisters, which has enough nuggets that I could recommend it, but not without saying that if you have any heart at all, it will be permanently wounded by the experience. And don't watch it while pregnant, nursing, or possibly at any point after having children. It kicked me hard in the gut before I even had kids.
I've been putting off posting about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro because it falls almost in the same category. Almost anything I could say would give away too much of the plot, and I could never compete with this review by Margaret Atwood (but don't go read that if you think you'll be reading the book, much of the experience of reading the book is about the very slow reveal of what's actually going on). So I'll just say that I am continually surprised by how real these characters are to me, even four years after reading it, and how much I care about them, even though I didn't really like any of them that much. Plus, the whole concept of the book is something my mind regularly wants to chew over, even if I don't like it very much. It's a really bleak thing, but astonishingly full in spite of that. A sturdy structure to hang years of existential angst on.
Actually, that's the one thing I'd add to the review. I ruminate over this book less as a narrow ethical dilemma or general social commentary, but more as a stubborn thorn in my side that keeps prompting questions like, Why does it matter what or who imposes limits on our lives? Are any of us really different than these people? Do our lives really have more meaning? Why? Why not? If not, why does their plight seem so tragic in comparison to our own? Do I find the gradual understanding that dawns on these kids so chilling only because of the disturbing fictional details of their world, or is it because it's such a clear metaphor for the universal experience of growing up, gradually discovering exciting things, gaining independence, luxuriating in our aliveness, but always with frightening shadows at the margins, slowly revealing mortality, evil, our own moral imperfection? It's compelling on so many levels, which must be why my brain won't let it go.