Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Friday, June 03, 2011

I was not prepared.  When I decided to read Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, I did so as a way to give the author a second try.  I have tried to read The Remains of the Day back in college, and I found the tight, closely-controlled writing difficult, and not in a good way.  When I saw the movie they made from the book, I realized why it was written the way that it was.  But I couldn't get through it.  When I started to see Never Let Me Go all over the blogosphere, I had to work myself up for another try.  I try not to read too many reviews of the books I'm going to read before I read them-I don't want someone else's opinion to blur my own-so I really didn't know much about the book except that I had tried to read this author before and failed.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this book is about as far away from the content of The Remains of the Day as it is possible to get and still be the same form of media.  Never Let Me Go is the story of Kath, Tommy, and Ruth, three students at a boarding school in England, which you very quickly realize is not your typical boarding school.  The students are clones, created specifically to become organ donors.  Their teachers try to shield them as best they can from the inevitability of their fate, but each in their turn goes off to be a carer-someone who helps donors recover-until it is their turn to be cut up for parts. 

Given the subject matter, you might assume that this book is a treatise on medical ethics or social justice, but Ishiguro uses this rather interesting setting to tell a coming-of-age story.  The story is told with Kath as narrator, and it opens with her getting ready to retire from being a carer.  The story is told as memory, in Hansel and Gretl fashion-Ishiguor leaves a trail of crumbs, hints of what is really going on behind the placid boarding school setting, tidbits that make it impossible to stop reading until you figure out what is going on.  Everything is just slightly askew in this book-it's like the real world slipped sideways just a bit.

Ishiguro begins with Kath explaining her retirement from being a carer, though at the time you have no idea what that actually means.  What this narrative structure does is allow the reader to spend the bulk of the novel  pondering the relationships the characters have to each other, rather than waiting for them to escape from their predicament.  While the fact of their creation and eventual destruction is always below the surface, there are many things in Ruth, Kath, and Tommy that are familiar.  First love, jealousy, betrayal, insecurity-all pretty universal elements of a classic coming-of-age story.  By the time Ishiguro finally gets around to giving you enough information about the donation program to figure out what's been going on, it's practically the end of the book.  Only then do you realize that what you have been reading is not just your ordinary teenage love story, but a story about what it means to be human.  If clones can love and hurt and feel anger and fear, then what separates them from the "natural" people who created them?


  1. I thought that was as fine a review as I've read of this book. I read it back when it was published and like you, I was a little hesitant because his other books were so ponderous.

  2. Wonderful review, makes me want to read the book.

  3. Amazing review! I love your last few lines. I thought this was such a great novel.

  4. Great review, really interesting to get a different perspective on the book after writing my own review:


Penny for your thoughts...