Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
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.
The book is set in the future, but it isn’t like any dystopian book I’ve read before because it isn’t action-oriented. Instead, it’s a contemplative novel of a girl named Kathy H. looking back at her childhood. In stark contrast to typical fantasy/sci-fi novels, the book was very delicate, so much so that as I was reading it, there was constantly this fear on the back of my mind that the world so carefully built up would crumble (as all dystopian novels do, I suppose).
On my phone, where I read most of the book, the book was 582 pages. It took me almost two months to get through the first 100 pages, but I finished the rest within the span of a week (I think I even read around 300 pages within one night). At the start of the book, I had to force myself through each chapter, but I think that just may have been because I’m used to books with a quicker pace; the time it took for Ishiguro to set up the context was absolutely necessary because it was the almost fragile imagery made the world so authentic, and in turn, what made the book so much more valuable and heartfelt. At times, some of the memories Kathy recalled seemed very stream-of-consciousness, but I think I realized that it was that sporadic unpredictability that made her such a genuine, imperfect character—a key component to the purpose of the book. I also loved how we knew as much as the characters did, because as we grew up with them, we got to unravel their many mysteries with them. One thing that I really came to value throughout the book was how Kathy, the narrator, kept acknowledging the greater wisdom that retrospect allowed her. She recognized that while some memories were smaller than she had initially perceived them to be, others may have inevitably been made smaller due to her hindsight.
The book grappled with many themes such as humanity and love, but personally, the most prominent theme was the morality (and necessity) of deception. Is ignorance bliss? Is it better to be mindlessly hopeful or to understand reality, however harsh it may be? As Kathy and her friends, Ruth and Tommy, grew up, it was the rejection of such ignorance that allowed them to uncover the truth of their circumstances. While there was some satisfaction in meeting that urgent curiosity, as it both offered relief and built a more intimate connection between the three, the consequences of knowledge were also clearly portrayed. Ultimately, the book posed a question to its readers: would you have preferred not to know the whole truth, or was the truth, despite the pain it brought with it, necessary and even worth it?
The book finished with a sense of both wistfulness and closure, if that even makes sense. I wanted a happier ending, a more ideal ending, yet I felt satisfied in knowing how true to life the book was. Not only did it let me question my values and perception of the world, but in the three months it took me to finish the book, I really did grow as a reader and learned to appreciate the importance of reflection and pensiveness. Immediately after finishing the book, I felt a bit unsatisfied because the ending was not as exciting as I’d expected it to be, but that was probably Ishiguro’s intent. Upon writing this review, I’ve come to realize that I honestly do feel so much joy from having read this book and would recommend it to those looking for a heavy, thought-provoking story.
There’s also apparently a movie based on the book, so I would love to watch it one day. 🙂