Fiction – hardcover; Faber and Faber; 263 pages; 2005.
How do I review this book? I finished reading it about a month ago, but every time I try to write about it, I find myself unable to articulate my thoughts. It hasn’t helped that one particular Observer journalist declared that no one would care that Never Let Me Go had been on my TBR-list for a year or that I’d bought it as part of a discounted set of Booker novels!! (She was actually wrong, because 12 of you did care enough to leave comments!) As much as I hate to admit it, this made it more difficult to write a review that wasn’t influenced by the whole negativity of this experience…
…which isn’t entirely a bad thing, because with the passing of time I’ve been able to mull over what I really thought of the story and, quite frankly, it made me revise my star-rating down from a four-star review to a three-star review. I thoroughly enjoyed the book as I was reading it. It evoked a kind of creepy ambiance that stayed with me throughout the several days that it took me to complete the book.
However, because of the profound nature of the story, I expected it to have an impact that would last long after I reached the last page, but instead I found myself frustrated by it: there were so many unanswered questions, so many loose ends that hadn’t been tied up, so many gaps that I wanted filled. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, but I wanted to grab Kazuo Ishiguro by the throat and scream, “why didn’t those children fight back? Why did you made them so insipid?”
The story is narrated by Kathy, an adult looking back on her idealised childhood where she, along with a group of other select children, attended Hailsham, an upmarket boarding school in the British countryside. Although it is never spelt out — Ishiguro keeps his cards close to his chest throughout the entire novel — the children are clones bred for future organ donation.
Kathy, now a carer, looks after Hailsham graduates, including two of her classmates, as they go through organ donation procedures. These “graduates” don’t just donate one-off organs, they come back repeatedly until, eventually, they “complete”, an euphemism for die.
There’s no real plot to speak of, other than Kathy recalling incidents from her past, which sounds a rather dull narrative device but works exceptionally well. This is because Ishiguro drip feeds information very slowly throughout the book, so that it is up to the reader to fill in the gaps. As you do so, the horror — and the enormous sadness — of the story begins to filter through. I found it to be a deeply disturbing and unsettling read, the mark of a strongly written story.
Ultimately Never Let Me Go belongs to the science fiction genre, even though it is set in modern times. It is quite reminiscent of the late John Wyndham’s futuristic novels, but you definitely don’t need to be a fan of science fiction to enjoy it. I liked it very much, but not enough to rave about it.