Book Reviews

[review] Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

Discovery: I heard about the film adaptation first, but I decided to read the book before watching it.

+     Voice. This is the first Ishiguro book I’ve read, but I’ve heard a lot about the unique voices he gives his characters. I wasn’t disappointed by Kathy H. in the least. The novel balances dramatic events with the clinical nature of science-fiction through the point-of-view of a young woman. It’s a jarring adjustment at first–the book is a memoir of sorts, interspersed with Kathy’s recounting of certain important events. Her voice is melancholy, yet it is infused with an indomitable strength. Kathy is never hasty with her revelations and secrets. The reader gets the sense that she has reflected on her story for a long period of time before choosing to relay it, and subsequently, the things she reveals bear more weight.

+     Themes. Not a lot of people will know this about me, but I’m a hospital girl. After I turned two, not a year went by that I wasn’t in the hospital for one illness or another. My longest stint was during 4th grade: I had an unknown gastrointestinal problem that kept me from eating anything for 10 days straight. I survived on IVs alone. Hospitals and the people in them are forever tied to my life. What does this have to do with Never Let Me Go?

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are all trapped in a system that will use them to benefit other people. They have no futures and no hope for change. Hailsham Academy encourages them to pursue creativity and their own passions. How does one deal with untapped potential when faced with an inevitable end? There was a time when I lay in a hospital bed, weak and sore from leaning over the side of my bed getting sick. I never ever thought I’d be sitting here now with a bachelor’s degree and my whole life ahead of me. But what if I really didn’t have that? Would anything I do matter in the end? Kathy struggles with this as bits and pieces of the truth about her life are revealed. Is love worth fighting for? Can friendships be meaningful? I’m simplifying the inner conflicts right now, but these are all questions that we all recognize. Ishiguro is an able director of these themes.

–    Pacing. As someone who studied mostly literary fiction in university, the writing styles used in novels like this don’t come as much of a surprise. Nevertheless, it’s always been my pet peeve with lit-fic. There were many instances where the novel slowed down to almost tortoise-like speed, meandering from one thought to another. I actually had trouble getting through the first 50 pages, because I’d read 15 before bed, wake up in the morning, go to class, come home and have completely forgotten about what happened in the previous pages. It was difficult to get into for a while, but I liked Kathy enough to push through the molasses of the book.

Recommendations: Never Let Me Go is a rewarding experience for readers who are patient and willing to follow along on a 30-year-journey.

Rating: Very good.

Next review: Possession, Elana Johnson

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