Thursday Book Talk: “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go: A Novel
Kazuo Ishiguro
Vintage, 2006 (paperback) (ISBN 1400078776 / 9781400078776)
Fiction, 304 pages

First sentence: My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.

Book description: 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.

Comments: Never Let Me Go tells a story that I found compelling and intellectually intriguing, but difficult to engage with emotionally. The premise is fascinating, but I can’t really say too much about it without spoiling the primary concept of the novel, which is what exists to be spoiled here – this isn’t a plot-driven novel by any means.

Kazuo Ishiguro has set Never Let Me Go in a place and time much like our own modern world, but in some areas is much more scientifically and medically advanced, thanks to the donors and their carers. His narrator, Kathy, is a carer – it’s not exactly a medical profession, but it does involve being part of the recovery process as donors recuperate from one procedure and prepare for their next. Most donors will be called upon three or four times before they “complete.”

When we meet Kathy, she is preparing to give up her work as a carer, and this has prompted her to reflect on her years growing up among the other “special” students at the secluded Hailsham school. Ruth and Tommy were among her closest friends there, and her work re-connected all of them as young adults.

Kathy’s narration of the story is both conversational and almost overly thoughtful. She’ll mention something that happened, then backtrack through what led up to it before returning to the original event in detail, but as she recounts it, she applies hindsight and attempts to discern the feelings and motives of everyone involved in the situation at the time it happened. This pattern also affected the way that the story’s few major revelations were made with far less drama than one might expect. Ishiguro’s style is very reserved here, as it also was in the very different The Remains of the Day, and while in many respects I can appreciate that, I feel that it may have blunted some of the emotional impact and my ability to connect with the characters.

This is a novel that many readers have loved, and quite a few others have found nearly unbearable. It’s one that I’d probably find difficult to recommend – I think it has some fascinating and challenging concepts that would make for good discussion, but I also felt that, as a reader, it kept me at a distance. I’m not sorry that I read Never Let Me Go, but I wanted to like it more than I did; I ended up respecting it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I had hoped for something else.

Rating: 3.25/5

Buy the book:

Other bloggers’ reviews:
A Novel Menagerie
Becky’s Book Reviews
Tuesday in silhouette
Books on the Brain
books i done read
Blue Archipelago
Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!
A Life in Books
Book Addiction

If you have reviewed this book, please leave your link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I’ll edit my review to include it!

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  1. I’m one of the readers who found this book to be unbearable. Not because of the writing – it’s wonderful. I just don’t ever want it to be true. You did a good job of expressing your reactions to this difficult, but worthwhile book. I’m impressed!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful review. I have read lots of good reviews of this one, and some bad ones too, and I have to admit to be intrigued by it. I may give it a try some day.

  3. Gwendolyn – Thanks. This was a difficult review, actually. I find that I’m still thinking about the book, so clearly it connected with me at some level.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – If the mix of reactions to this book intrigues you, I think it would be worthwhile for you to read it one of these days. It’s a thought-provoker, at any rate.

  4. I’ve read some mixed reviews on this one. For some reason, I have a hard time reading Ishiguro. A sense of detachment seems to come over me and I need to feel closer to the characters for a book to work for me.

  5. Anna – I might try The Remains of the Day before this one.

    Ti – I know what you mean. I definitely experienced that with this book.

    Lenore – I really wanted to connect with it, and I think that I may appreciate it more with time, but I’m not sure my feelings will change that much.

  6. I struggled reading this. I don’t think you could say it was enjoyable. This was a book club read though, and I have to say that even though no one really loved it as such, it did provoke one of the most interesting discussions we had ever had! Everyone had lots to say about all the subjects raised!

  7. Marg – My book club has had some of the best discussions over books that not everyone liked, and there’s definitely lots of fodder for that in this novel.

  8. BelleoftheBooks – I respect it if it’s thought-provoking and well-written, which I think this book is; I just couldn’t really warm up to it.

  9. I really like your review, Florinda. I do understand what you mean about respecting the book, but not liking it as much as you had hoped. I read another review of this one today that wasn’t too positive. This sounds like a book that is a bit on the challenging side. I do want to try this one. It will be interesting to see what I end up thinking once I do.

  10. I think you hit upon something that was important for me in reading this book. It was overly thoughtful and considered and explained and I was detached from the characters- it left me bored.

    There were interesting concepts being explored, but I was one of the peeps driven crazy by this one, and I didn’t get the wild enthusiasm.

  11. Wendy (Literary Feline) – I agree that it’s a challenging book, but it doesn’t immediately present itself as one. Some people have really liked it, and a few of the ones who haven’t had similar reactions to mine, from the reviews I’ve seen.

    Michelle – This is the first I’ve heard about it. I think Keira Knightley can act, but she’s too thin :-). I’m not sure I’ll fall all over myself to see how this translates to screen, but I admit to some curiosity.

    Nicole – I wasn’t bored, but I just wasn’t that invested in what was happening. I read your reaction to the book in a BTT post while I was still in the middle of it, and I definitely understand it.

  12. I was actually entranced by this one, but like you I don't know that I could recommend it to just anyone. I love Remains of the Day as well.

  13. Shelley – I'm currently reading a book with a similar theme that I'm connecting with much more. I should have the review of it up this week, and I'll probably be doing a compare-and-contrast between this book and that one.