When people ask me about my favorite book or author, I usually find myself stumbling to come up with an acceptable answer. I’ve tried redirection, like asking “oh well who would you choose? Oh yeah, me too, he’s great.” After careful thought, however, I would have to say Kazuo Ishiguro is on the top of my list, especially due to the phenomenal Never Let Me Go which I would proudly list among my top ten reads of all time. This is going to be my toughest review to date, as I’m going to try to refrain from revealing the major twist that occurs. Prior to my first time with this novel, I’ve read two others by Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills and The Remains of the Day. While both of those are exceptional as well, Never Let Me Go is Ishiguro at his best.
Never Let Me Go tells the story of Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy, who as children attended an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. Throughout their time at the mysterious school, they are told by the teachers that they are special. Years later, and Kathy as an adult looks back at their time at Hailsham as Ruth and Tommy reenter her life. I loved how the book was written from Kathy’s point-of-view. On the surface, this feels like any other coming of age drama when it is in actuality a very intelligent work of science fiction.
The book is written in Ishiguro’s conversational and straightforward way that the disturbing elements are treated as purely mundane. This is the genius of the book. The plot twist that I mentioned earlier isn’t just laid out in one particular scene, but slowly revealed to the reader over the course of several chapters. We feel the same emotional distance from the horror as the characters do because for them it is just how life is for them.There’s a scene in the book when Kathy questions their futures and suggests that although they have been taught to accept their fates, they were taught in such a way over time that they never really grasped the horror of the situation. This is reflected in our reading of the book as we slowly piece together what is actually happening. There is no horror for these characters. They understand but yet they don’t understand. There are no rebellions, no uprisings of the oppressed, just a peaceful acceptance, which is the most tragic part of all. Often, I kept wanting someone to fight the system but this never happens.
I also liked that Ishiguro set the story around the present day. Even though the premise of the story is not at this moment possible, setting it in the present made the whole concept even more frightening. This could very well be a possible future. I think this was a smart choice as it really accomplished what Ishiguro set out to do, which was tell a very real human story using the science fiction elements as more of a means of conveying it to his readers.
This was my second time reading this book, and honestly it was even more fantastic the second time. There aren’t many books that I reread, which should be a testament in itself of how great this book is. Of course, the first time I read it I had no idea what was going to unfold. As with the novel that would follow it years later, The Buried Giant, Ishiguro takes a particular genre and manipulating it to tell a very human drama. Reading this work for a second time was great in an entirely different way, as I was able to feel for these characters knowing full well the fates that await them. The funny thing about my reading experience with this book the first time was that the emotions didn’t really hit me until the end. This time, I found myself feeling more emotional throughout the entirety of the experience.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kazuo Ishiguro about three years ago when he came to my local library to receive an award. It was a great experience hearing him talk about all of his books and getting my copy of Never Let Me Go signed!
Hopefully my review will entice you to take a chance on Ishiguro and this novel. This won’t be the last time I read it as it is pure poetry.
“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”
Please share your thoughts on this book or this review. Comments are always welcome.