Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Date finished: 9 March 2011

Rating: 3.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought (December 2010)

Genre: Literary fiction; Dystopian fiction

Published: in March 2005 by Faber and Faber

The Synopsis (taken from waterstones.com)

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham – an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods – and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.


The Review

I originally bought this after reading a review of it over at The Book Stop . Then the film, that I didn’t even know existed, started being advertised in the UK so this one got bumped up my reading schedule to avoid my inadvertently being dragged to see the film before having read the book. I hate that…

The novel is told from the perspective of Kathy, who is a ‘Carer’. Facing an end to her time in this role, Kathy reminisces about her life and her experiences and ponders her immediate future. The tone of Kathy’s voice is perfect and refreshingly honest. She has made mistakes and handled situations badly and may even have some regrets. One thing that can be annoying are characters who respond to every put-down with a perfectly timed sarcastic barb or every romantic advance with just the right gesture/statement. Kathy is nothing like that and it made the book so much more enjoyable and, ultimately, powerful.

Pace is another aspect that Ishiguro has managed to judge perfectly. The story doesn’t move quickly but that is to its credit. This novel has a fascinating debate at its core and without the time dedicated to character development and the subtleties that can be incorporated as a result. Readers can watch the characters grow from young children to adults in such detail and with such consistent accuracy that I found myself remembering

At Hailsham, though, something always feels not quite right. The children are well cared for and educated, with a particular focus on developing their creativity. They are encouraged to grow and create, but absolutely not to be ambitious. It’s this kind of hint at a more sinister undertone that drive you on.

Overall: This is absolutely worth a read and I have lost count of the people I have recommended it to so that I can talk to them about it. The writing has some flaws but the plot and moral/scientific twists that are thrown make everything worth while. It’s hard to describe how much this book will wrench your heart without ruining it – so just take my word for it and read it!

**If you want to avoid SPOILERS, look away NOW**

I considered reviewing the book without mentioning what I would consider to be a spoiler and in the end decided that I was dying to talk about it so thought I would tag it onto the end.

The subject matter in Never Let Me Go is a moral minefield – the children of Hailsham are “bred” in test tubes using the cells of ‘regular’ people for the sole purpose of providing organs to those people. Until they are ready to donate, they act as Carers for their friends, watching them excrutiatingly donate their organs until they ‘complete’…which obviously doesn’t mean that they’ve done their time and move on to live happily ever after. The realisation that this is what the characters you have come to love were born to…die and nothing much more was a shocking one and the last quarter of the book is utterly devastating when the revelations just keep on…

While this was unsettling enough as it was, the response of others when they interact with the donors is what is the most disturbing. As though they are happy to reap the benefits of a supply of organs for their loved ones and don’t want to consider the source. I think in a society which is driven by genetic development and cures to all kinds of health problems the tale is extremely poignant.
I would love to hear from someone else who has read this one – what did you think about how the story pans out? I could rave on all day about my thoughts and feelings about the issues so if you’ve read this and have some to share, go right on ahead 🙂