Book Title/Author: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher/Year: January 2006 by Vintage Books (first published in January 2005)
Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian, Romance, Adult Fiction
“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.” (Goodreads)
Let me start by saying that Never Let Me Go is often categorized as Science Fiction, this is why I think it has received some poor 1 to 2-star reviews on Goodreads. If you’re thinking of reading Never Let Me Go you need to know that it is a literary fiction story that raises questions of what it is to be human, where the line between science and ethics cross, and how we all choose to deal with the inevitable: death.
The story is told from the perspective of Kathy, now in her early 30s and a former student of Hailsham, an English boarding school. Kathy reflects on the short time she had with her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy, their jealousies and affection for each other. Hailsham is a school for kids with a ‘special’ purpose and all throughout the students’ education they are conditioned to accept this path that has already been chosen for each of them. This ‘special’ fate of each of the students is not explicitly stated to the readers or to the students until about half way through Part 1 (of 3) but as I said above, the students are gradually conditioned to the notion of their purpose so it does not come as a shock to them, which is heartbreaking. The best way I can explain this, without giving away spoilers, is to think of that feeling that you get when someone tells you bad news, news that you kind of knew/expected but were hoping it wasn’t the case. It is like those negative thoughts that creep up but you silence them by distracting yourself with somethings else. Well, the reveal of the students’ purpose is like that feeling.
There is no particular climax to Kathy’s story but this is done intentionally by Ishiguro. Readers are taken on this gradual journey through Kathy’s youth, adolescence and adulthood and the story is written in a way to drop subtle, (and eerie) hints about their fate. I think that the way Never Let Me Go is written is done so to parallel the feelings that the students of Hailsham felt: gradually realizing what is happening.
When I was done the book, I couldn’t get the book out of my head. The story and its themes have haunted me. This is one of my favourite books. I originally read it in 2011 and was ecstatic to have read it this year and to enjoy it just as much as I did back then. I will admit that it pulled on my heartstrings and did make me cry at the end — and there are only a few books (5 or less) that I can list that have done that to me. I highly recommend this book.
“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”
“What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”
“I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I’d see it was [him], and he’d wave, and maybe even call.”
“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”
“It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we’d understood that back then-who knows?-maybe we’d have kept a tighter hold of one another.”