I have never read a book like Never Let Me Go. Why? There is something about well praised literary and speculative fiction that turns me off. I think it’s years of being forced to read these genres in school, never understanding it, and never appreciating it. I tend to drift away because the genres make me feel stupid. If only I could learn from my mistakes.
Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.
Kathy is 31-years-old and is about to make a big transition in her life from Carer of Donors to a Donor herself. As the Carer chapter of her life is closing, she reflects on how she got to this place, starting from her first real memories and life at her boarding school, Hailsham. Told in a series of flashbacks in a semi-chronological order, the reader gets to relive Kathy’s life with her.
The mystery following Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy feels almost palpable from the first page. I kept reading to discover the answer to the mystery but was surprised that once The Big Reveal came I realized I had already known. Just as Kathy explains how growing up no one directly told the students of Hailsham why they were special, no one told me either. It just formed in my mind as I read the pages. I was not shocked at the reveal itself, but I was instead shocked that I had already known. Brilliant writing.
All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma.
The setting for this book is an alternative 1990’s United Kingdom. After World War II, the world we know it changed dramatically to arrive at this point in time. While on the surface Never Let Me Go is about the characters and their lives playing out in this alternate reality, Ishiguro is really exploring ethical, psychological, and philosophical issues. This exploration is so subtle that often these great weights don’t hit you until they have long passed. It’s not until I found myself in book club, or sitting alone and reflecting that I realized the importance of this story. Ishiguro’s tale begs us to ask the questions: Will we do something simply because we have the ability to do it? What is right? And, always, Is it worth it?
In many ways, Never Let Me Go reminded me quite a bit of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Kathy is similar to Offred, as both of them are a part of something terrible but completely accepted by society. They both go through the daily motions of life as is expected of them, and the people around them treat them as expected. Yet, the difference here is that Offred tried to contain her passion and desire for rebellion, where this concept never occurred to Kathy. She never really grasped the full idea of rebellion, but she did want to live her life as her own. I also think the writing style from both author’s books is similar. Both stories are told to us subtly, without telling, and focusing on the unsaid. Every word feels intentional.
I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fasy. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.
This book certainly will make you think. It provided a lot of conversation for my book club, that’s for sure. I strongly recommend this to lovers to speculative fiction, dystopian literature, and those who read Man Booker Prize winners.
What do you think?
- Have you read Never Let Me Go? Have you seen the movie? What do you think?
- Do you find there are genres of literature you shy award from? What genres? Why?
- Have you read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s other works? What do you think of them?