I originally bought this novel five or six years ago, based on a recommendation on a thread on Westeros, if I remember correctly. I kept meaning to read it, but something always got in the way. Knowing that the book was awaiting my attention, I resisted the urge to watch the movie, for I didn't want it to spoil the novel for me. And finally, once I returned from my hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, I decided that it was high time to give Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go a shot. There seems to be a love/hate relationship between readers and this book, so I was looking forward to finding out what the hype was all about. As a Man Booker prize finalist, I knew this was a work that wouldn't leave me indifferent. And I was right. . .
Here's the blurb:
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.
This novel is often labeled as science fiction, but that's not the case. It can be described as dystopian fiction, true. But it has nothing that can inherently make it a scifi read. Beyond that, it's a hard book to put in a nutshell. If anything, it's a coming-of-age tale. The loss of innocence is one of the main themes explored within the pages of this book, which probably explains the sorrowful feel that permeates everything.
Although Never Let Me Go features the first-person narrative of Kathy, now a thirty-something woman whose tenure as a carer is about to come to an end and who is reminiscing about her childhood and upbringing at the mysterious Hailsham School, the book focuses on three distinct characters: Kathy and two of her friends, Ruth and Tommy. From the melancholy tone of the narrator, one immediately realizes that this is a tale that won't have a happy ending. My biggest disappointment was that Ishiguro wasn't able to play his cards as close to his chest as he likely wanted to, and you can see the end coming due to all the foreshadowing throughout the book. Having said that, regardless of the fact that it doesn't come as a complete surprise, the ending packs a powerful emotional punch that was quite satisfying.
The novel is split into three parts. The first one focuses on their early childhood at Hailsham and sets the mood and the tone for the rest of the book. Isolated and schooled by guardians who control everything they learn, the Hailsham students grow up socially inept and naive. The world outside of Hailsham is mysterious and beyond reach, and I found this portion of the book to be fascinating. You can't help but feel for those kids, who are unaware of what the future holds in store for them. Up until the second part began, a portion that deals with the teenage years of the three protagonists, it appeared that Kazuo Ishiguro was heading for a perfect score. I was totally enthralled by Never Let Me Go and was persuaded that I would finish it in short order. Alas, that second part drags and drags, focusing on the growing pains of adolescents and all that they bring. Yet at times it feels as though it's more about awkward moments between Kathy and Ruth than anything else. Though it features important scenes that set the stage for a lot of what will take place in the third part, the one exploring the characters' adulthood as carer or donors, the second portion of Never Let Me Go nearly killed the novel for me. Thankfully, though the tale suffers from several plot holes (the entire thing about carer driving all over the country to be with various donors all the time truly felt implausible to me, as such a process wouldn't make any sense and be so time-consuming), the final part, with all its revelations at the end, even if you saw it coming, with that scene in which Kathy and Tommy's illusions are shattered beyond repair, well that scene hits you like a punch in the gut and brings this book to a close with the sort of emotional impact that is seldom seen.
Weighing in at only 288 pages, Never Let Me Go is a relatively short work. And yet, at times it feels too long, especially in certain chapters of the second part. As crazy as it sounds, this book would probably have been even better if it had been a bit shorter.
Thoughtful, disconcerting, grim, and yet full of grace, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is a tale full of love and innocence that should be on everyone's reading list.