Never Let Me Go: A Novel
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.
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.
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