Never Let Me Go

October 17, 2016
Never Let Me Go Book Cover Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
Speculative Fiction
Vintage Books
August 31st, 2010
Paperback
288
Owned
2005

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.

 

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. never-let-me-go-hailshamAs 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. never-let-me-go-boatAfter 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. never-let-me-go-docksKathy 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.

4 stars


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?

25 Comments

  • drcupcake45 October 17, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Wow! I need to add this to my must read list! I love the review. Then you included that passage about drifting apart, that’s heart breaking. But sometimes it is such a sad reality some face. I’m excited to read this! Great review!

    • Jackie B October 17, 2016 at 10:14 am

      Thanks! There are some surprisingly heartbreaking moments, you have been warned. I can’t wait to hear what you think. 🙂

  • Marie @ drizzleandhurricanebooks October 17, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I love your review, and I am so happy you enjoyed this book! I read it a while ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was like a slap in the face, really. I was stunned when I read the last few pages, and I just loved it so much. 🙂

    • Jackie B October 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks, Marie! I’m glad I’m not alone in loving this. Have you read any of Ishiguro’s other works?

  • Elliott October 18, 2016 at 9:15 am

    This has been on my TBR list for awhile and is definitely moving up

    • Jackie B October 18, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      I’m so glad!! It definitely made me think.

  • Read Diverse Books October 19, 2016 at 2:38 am

    I read this book in high school in my school’s book club and was blown away by it. I just hadn’t read a book quite like it before, so I still remember it fondly. I think it’s time for a reread. But first, I need to watch the movie!! I had forgotten it was out.

    • Jackie B October 19, 2016 at 11:16 am

      I haven’t seen the movie myself, but I’ve been told it’s quite powerful in a different way. I would be interested in hearing your opinion.

  • Anne October 20, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one struggling with this genre. I know it’s bullshit, but always believe I’m too stupid to get highly praised literary works as well. Seeing the Man Booker Prize stamp makes me go “oooh, this must be such a deeply fascinating story”, only to then shy away from it because I’d probably not have enough brain cells to understand it correctly anyways. Lame! Anyhow, The Handmaid’s Tale is still very high on my TBR so I think I’ll have to give this one a go as well after that now that I’ve read this fabulous review of yours :).

    • Jackie B October 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. Honestly, I listen to most speculative fiction in audiobook format when I’m in the car. This means I’m trapped listening to it, and it forces me to keep going forward and continue reading. I don’t go, “What did that mean?” read it 10 times and then give up (Not that I’d EVER do that… O_o) .
      But, the trick is that I also have to be willing to pick it up.

      • Anne October 21, 2016 at 6:59 am

        Now that is brilliant! Just roll with it!
        (of course you’d never do that, that would be silly). It’s similar to how I taught myself English. Just read and if I didn’t understand certain words, just keep going and don’t look back! While beforehand, I’d sit with a dictionary beside me to make sure I understood it all. Nonsense.

        • Jackie B October 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

          Exactly! Sometimes you have to be willing to let things go before you are able to start to really understand it. Whenever I find something hard I need to do that to get past a wall. It’s not easy to do, however. Like maths? Yeah, I’m still not good there.

  • Novels And Nonfiction October 21, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Loved this review! I tried to look at and follow your blog several times in the past when you first started interacting with my blog and I had issues viewing the page, so you may have been mid blog-redesign. I’m glad I thought to check back today and see that it’s working and I can follow you! Looks great 🙂

    • Jackie B October 21, 2016 at 11:46 am

      WordPress and I seem to be in a constant battle of figuring out my .Org vs. .Com account. It’s infuriating. But it’s great to see you here. 🙂

      • Novels And Nonfiction October 21, 2016 at 12:10 pm

        I’m sticking to .com for now, I’m pretty scared of the transition to .org but I guess I’ll have to make it eventually 🙂

        • Jackie B October 24, 2016 at 12:30 pm

          Well, you don’t *have* to, but I really like it (most of the time). The flexibility is great, even if WordPress.com sometimes pretends I don’t exist.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom October 23, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Wonderful review Jackie! I don’t believe I’ve heard of this one before this review. It sounds like it is one of those books that is memorable and makes you think for long after you have finished. I may suggest this one for my own book club!

    • Jackie B October 24, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      That’s awesome! I hope you all get to read it together– I am curious to know what you think. My book club really enjoyed discussing the “What if this really *was* our world…?” ideas. Scary and fascinating.

  • wordsandotherbeasts October 30, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Great review! I’m glad you enjoyed this, it’s one of my favourite books! I especially like the part where you said that the reveal was shocking in that you had known it all along. It was the same for me, the stark reality of it never seemed to fully settle until the end when I realised that these awful things were always going to happen to the characters, there was no escape. It’s so heartbreaking and beautifully written. I also agree that it’s similar to The Handmaid’s Tale, another favourite of mine!

    • Jackie B October 30, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      I’m glad I found one of your favorite, Caitlin! I was hoping the whole time that they would find a way out, but by the end I realized if they did we never would have really had absolution. Speculative fiction, man.
      Do you have any read-alikes you would recommend? Since I tend to avoid speculative fiction, but I enjoyed this and The Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps there is just a subgenre I would like?

      • wordsandotherbeasts October 31, 2016 at 5:07 am

        Haha speculative fiction can be quite brutal but it’s definitely one of my favourite genres! Yeah I would recommend The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Children of Men by PD James. They’re all dystopian speculative fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go. The last one has an especially good film adaptation too!

        • Jackie B November 2, 2016 at 3:42 pm

          I love the Goodreads description for The Ship, “Children of Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale: a dystopian epic about love, friendship and what it means to be free.” Nailed it.

          Brave New World has been on my TBR for many years. Perhaps it’s time to finally tackle it? Thanks for the recommendations! I look forward to attempting to embrace more speculative fiction.

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