Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published: 2006, Vintage (Originally 2005)
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
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It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed. If I’d known, maybe I’d have kept tighter hold of them, and not let unseen tides pull us apart.
Kathy H. is proud to admit that she’s a really good carer. So good, in fact, that she’s been doing the job for over eleven years now, long after her friends and peers have moved on to the next stages of their lives. But being reunited with her childhood friend Ruth has helped Kathy to reminisce about their past, back from when they were classmates at the idyllic and isolated private school, Hailsham, in an alternate 1970s England. There the students were given a solid education and rewarded for their creativity, yet kept separate from the rest of the world.
As Kathy’s memories progress through time and become intertwined with her current relationships with Ruth and their friend Tommy, she slowly reveals the truths about their education, their lives, and their futures.
Prior to reading Never Let Me Go, I’d heard that this is the novel best experienced blindly. That to fully appreciate the story at hand, you should know nothing before your own eyes (or ears) process the words. I like knowing what I’m getting into a bit too much, so I didn’t follow that advice, but I understand where others are coming from. It is a story perhaps best told in a similar fashion to what our characters themselves experience: a tiny bit of truth at a time. And so my review will be succinct.
Never Let Me Go is a hard-hitting book. It is both emotionally manipulative and depressing in its potential plausibility. It’s the sort of novel that can make you question humanity. Yet it hardly tackles new matters. Instead, what makes this novel so powerful is the way in which it is told.
Kathy reveals the story of her life in the first-person past tense. Her life thus far has been an odd juxtaposition of the mundane and the truly horrifying, and yet everything is told in a clinical, detached sort of tone. The way in which Kathy tells her story helps to keep any emotional attachment at bay, and yet the story becomes all the more depressing for that. Kathy’s matter of fact attitude about the circumstances surrounding her world show just how accustomed she is with the way things are.
This is not an action-packed novel; rather, it’s a quiet exploration through Kathy’s memories. A large percentage of the novel is told in a slow, meandering fashion. Kathy will begin to reveal one event of her past, only to realize that it’s tied too closely with an older event and backtrack to that other event first. At times it’s certainly frustrating. But the writing style works so well to convey Kathy’s emotions and life up until now. So while I’m not the biggest fan of a detached, slow-moving narrative, I understand its purpose and think it accomplished that very well.
At its core, Never Let Me Go is about Kathy and her two childhood friends, Ruth and Tommy, growing up and discovering their places within the world. It’s a sadder version of narratives of self-discovery, as well as an exploration into the links between fate and our choices. Recommended for those who are willing to look past some (deliberately intentional) depth of character development and worldbuilding and instead enjoy some truly thought-provoking fiction.
Rating: 3.5 stars