Monday, December 01, 2014

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro certainly writes interesting novels.  I really enjoyed his classic The Remains of the Day, which I finally read last year, and I just finished and was so impressed by his distopian novel, Never Let Me Go.

I am not a big fan of distopian novels, but I did love Ishiguro's writing, so I added it to my TBR Pile Challenge for 2014 and am so glad I did.  Never Let Me Go is one of those novels that makes you think about it long after you've read the last word.

Published in 2005, the novel takes place in England roughly ten years earlier and is a first-person narrative by Kathy H., who recounts her childhood and youth as a student at a boarding school and then working as a health care provider, or "carer."  Ishiguro is masterful in slowly and carefully peeling away the story that Kathy tells, until the full horror of the world in which Kathy and her friends live can be fully realized.

In writing in the voice of Kathy, Ishiguro perfectly captures not only the cadence and speech patterns of a young woman remembering her life, trying to be accurate, trying to be fair, but also assuming the listener (or reader!) understands how her world works and so doesn't need to explain everything at once.  In the course of the narrative, Kathy recounts how she and her friends, Tommy and Ruth, come to understand who they are and what is expected of them, and the reader learns about the world in real time along with Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.

I found the book absolutely chilling and bit part of why I found it so chilling was that the world is so recognizable in so many ways.  Apart from not having parents and siblings, Kathy and friends seem not terribly unlike most modern teens who live in a school environment.  I kept on thinking early on that Never Let Me Go seemed like a cross between Harry Potter and The Stepford Wives.

Even after Kathy discloses her fate and that of the other students, she is so accepting, so clinical, so detached.  I was actually a bit surprised that no one ever attempted to escape the system...but perhaps that's another story.

It's tough to write a review of a book like this without spoilers, but I found it absolutely riveting, horribly sad, and a fair warning regarding not letting the magic of science outstrip dignity and humanity.  If Frankenstein was Mary Shelley's and the Romantic movement's riff on the dangers of science unchecked, then Never Let Me Go is Ishiguro's and ours.

I am so looking forward to the movie, which I've heard is excellent, with Cary Mulligan as Kathy, and Keira Knightley as Ruth.


  1. Goodness, this sounds like a compelling story! I know Kazuo Ishiguro from The Remains of the Day (I thought I had a copy but if so it's missing), but I don't think I could name another of his books.

  2. I agree - I'm not that keen on distopian novels but this book is compelling reading and lingers in my mind and yes it's unbearably chilling. I don't think I could watch the movie ...

  3. I really want to read Ishiguro but have not done so.

    I do like dystopian stories that are well done and this sounds intriguing.

    I like the fact that, based on your commentary, it seems that the "rules" of the universe within this book are presented in slow bits.

  4. Can't wait to check this book (and movie!) out. Thanks for the recommendation. I've never read Ishiguro before, but I really want to now.

  5. That sounds like a great book. I must add that one to my ever-growing TBR list.

  6. I have this sitting around, waiting to be read. I think I should some time soon.