Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Have you ever finished a book wondering if you have enjoyed it? Initially you think it felt stunted or lacking in adventure, then after some rumination you realise exactly what the author was trying to express, both in style and action.

This is how I felt after reading Never Let Me Go. It’s not that it was difficult to read, I just never felt that pull to finish. However, the more I think about it the more I like it.

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.

Boarding school sold this book to me, I’m fascinated by the social constructs a boarding school cultivates. It’s isolation is the perfect setting for a story where nothing is quite as it seems.

Kath H is the lead protagonist. Her thoughts flutter back and forth between her time at Hailsham Boarding School and her years later as a career. Kath’s narration is simplistic and almost child-like. This irritated me until I realised, in the context of the story and how sheltered Kath is, it made perfect sense. As you reach the end of the tale, you realise Kath had no opportunity to speak like an adult, she was never exposed to anyone other than her own kind. Much as the Veterans in College copied the TV, Kath knew no more than her childhood experiences and was ill-prepared to converse on a mature level. Even the romance is disconnected and innocent, in the way teenagers and tweens fall in love. You’re both together and apart.

Ishiguro so cleverly captures the teenage need to belong and fit in, which considering the nature of Kath, Ruth and Tommy, is even more important to them. They find it harder to carve a personality when so much is limited to them. As more of the details surrounding their seclusion are revealed, the more you begin to sympathise with the irritating personalities of certain characters.

Though Never Let Me Go appears to be a fairly tame story of love and friendship, there is a dark backstory. One that makes you wonder, what is humanity? what makes someone human? Kath, Ruth and Tommy are no ordinary children, they are clones. Farmed for their organs, shunned by society and considered less than human or scientific mistakes. Kath, Ruth and Tommy were lucky to be at Hailsham, protected by their guardians, life could have been worse.

There are many philosophical arguments as to what make us human: freedom of thought, ability to reason, insight, souls, moral concepts (I wish I could remember more of my philosophy A-Level). Apply these to the clones and there is clearly no difference to their identical counterparts – if anything they are purer, grazed on romantic and fairytale ideals.

After I finished the book I imagined people arguing that you cannot prove the clones have humanity, then wondering if anyone can really prove they are human (clone or human). It has an air of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep about it, who are we to deny humanity to our own creations?

Have you read Never Let Me Go? What is your favourite Ishiguro novel? What Ishiguro should I read next?

7 thoughts on “Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. I haven’t read this but I have watched the film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. I felt a little like you when I finished watching it…I wasn’t sure I’d enjoyed it. I was left with an overwhelming sad feeling. I did enjoy both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the film adaptation Blade Runner 🙂

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  2. I read and enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and so far I have never enjoyed another Ishiguro book quite so much. My favorite was Remains of the Day; and then A Pale View of Hills put me off reading anything further by Ishiguro. I am at least somewhat curious about his new book — I’ve heard mixed things about it as a book, but the premise and the ideas Ishiguro’s dealing with are very tempting to me.

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    1. I want to read Remains of the Day, but I think I’ll leave it a while till I get to it. I’ve not heard anything about the new book, other than the publicity around it’s release. After a 10 year break I imagine it’s probably back on form.

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  3. I felt exactly the same way about Never Let Me Go. I didn’t necessarily feel wrapped up in the story, and it was only once I finished it and began thinking more about it that I began to appreciate what Ishiguro was trying to do. The only other one of his books that I’ve read is The Remains of the Day, which is definitely a compelling novel; everything is understated and muted, but it is fascinating.

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    1. The more people tell me about The Remains of the Day the more I want to read it. I tried to watch the film, but it put me on edge a bit, so I would like to read the book first.

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  4. This is one of my favourite books, and Ishiguro is my favourite author. (I got to meet him last week at his book signing for The Buriedd Giant! Dream moment! :D) I think what I love most about Ishiguro’s books is they’re all so vastly different – this one is about clones, Remains of the Day about an English butler, the new book set in post-Arthurian times – and they’re all so poetic and subtle. If you’re interested in more Ishiguro, I also highly recommend his collection of short stories, Nocturnes. It’s beautiful. (And my favourite of his.)

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