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Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I've started writing this review several times now and the words that come to mind as I begin every intro are "surprising" and "complex." I feel that I can really sum up the whole of Ishiguro's novel with those two words. "Never Let Me Go" opens with the first person narration of Kathy H which is creepy enough since we are told that the setting is "England, late 1990s" and I know no one in England is simply named H. Then Ishiguro begins to drop terms that the reader is unfamiliar with noting that Kathy is a "carer" and she takes care of those who have made "donations." The opening of the novel is not exactly confusing but it is disconcerting, especially for those familiar with Ishiguro's prose. He's famous for being a good writer, and I mean that in the beautiful language sense. So the odd references and the incredibly simplistic language set the reader up for what is going to be a very different reading experience in only the first paragraph.

The novel opens with Kathy reflecting on her life thus far as she prepares to make a big change and step down from the carer position she has held for eleven years. She explains that she wants to talk about her childhood as she has recently reconnected with two close friends from the past. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were incredibly lucky kids. They were students at the elite Hailsham school. While most of the donors Kathy cares for had horrible childhoods in schools they'd rather not discuss, Kathy and her friends lived in a basically care-free world throughout their early lives. Kathy is curious about her memories. She is constantly questioned about them by individuals who did not attend Hailsham and it is as though her reflections have begun to weigh on her.

And that's the thing, as a reader you are following along as Kathy describes life in Hailsham. The Guardians, the Gallery for creative works, the Collections of student possessions ... you hear about all of these things and Kathy describes their importance, but all the while you keep thinking that something else is going on here. There are hints and clues that allude to the fact that not all is right with the world, even in the idyllic Hailsham. This just doesn't sound like 90s England. Then all is illuminated to Kathy and the reader. It makes sense of the entire experience of reading the novel. Everything has been slightly off-kilter for a reason and we learn why when we find out just what it was that was special about Kathy, her friends, and the others like them. But I'm not going to tell you what that is ... I'll let Kazuo Ishiguro tell you in his own time as you read the novel.

So, there's the surprising. Here's the complex - this novel is not really even about that surprise. It's not really about the moral and ethical questions Ishiguro is posing through his characters. "Never Let Me Go" is a coming of age novel. It's the story of Kathy's journey away from and then back to Ruth and Tommy. Following these three very different characters as they navigate similar situations and relate (or fail to relate) to one another is the true goal of the novel. The three of them are close friends but I couldn't help but think that their ties seem to be more along the sibling lines. There was a need for one another that grade school friends don't typically feel. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are like the three sides of a triangle - they can be objects on their own but without the other two they will never be whole. Even with two all they will ever be is intersecting lines, it's the third that makes them who they are as a unit. Finding out what was going on in this world was what kept the pages turning, but reading about the characters relationships with one another was what made the whole book worth it. It's difficult for me to say whether or not I liked "Never Let Me Go." I enjoyed reading it, but I enjoyed thinking about it moreso and sometimes found myself setting the book down to think in depth about a passage.

I haven't had any time to read lately, and I was so far behind that I actually neglected to finish (or really start) "Never Let Me Go" before our bookclub met to discuss it. I was disappointed about it then, but now having read the novel I am so sad about it! I wish I could have really participated in this discussion instead of fielding the questions and making a weird reference to a side character in True Blood. Having read the novel, I can no longer even see how I fit that reference comfortably into the conversation; though thinking about it now I have a feeling we had gone off on a tangent about living forever and I was all "Godrick was such an awesome vampire you guys!" (don't judge me, readers - that show is TV's version of crack). What I'm trying to say here is that I want you to read Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" and then I want you to come talk to me about it.


  1. I completely love this novel, read my thoughts here: http://bit.ly/jMaDcG

  2. I really want to read this book, I think I'm going to buy it

  3. Cool review! Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/05/never-let-me-go-by-kashuo-ishiguro.html

    Thanks and have a nice day!



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