Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

One of the most touching and heartbreaking stories I have ever read, Ishiguro pushes the boundaries of fiction and the effect is dazzling.

I must admit that as I sit down to review this book I’m a little wary. I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ so much and the story touched me so deeply that I can’t help feeling slightly apprehensive about making sure this review does the book justice. Off course I’ll give it my best go and hopefully I will be able to convey to any readers thinking of reading this book just how affecting and touching it was.

I’m also cautious of giving away too much in this review as the story is so jam packed with thrilling twists and turns, compelling cliff hangers and intriguing mystery that to say too much would be to deny any readers new to this book the same experience of slowly unfolding and revealing the stories secrets. I’ll try and stick therefore to the basics of this plotline and hopefully retain the mystery of this novel. I must say though that I could never have predicted what would unfold in the story and for anyone intrigued by what they might have read or heard about this book then please do read it because the plot line is a true original.

The story opens up at Hailsham school and it follows the lives of a group of students growing up in this seemingly idyllic and privileged school under the care of their ‘guardians’. The story is set in the 1960’s however it is also set in Ishiguro’s image of an alternative England (I wont say too much about this in case I give away the crux of the story). At first their world seems in no way different to our own but subtly placed clues hint at something darker and give the novel an ominous atmosphere. Why don’t the children have full surnames? instead they are called Kathy H or Tommy B. And why is there such an emphasis on the children’s health? an idea reinforced through constant and rigorous medical checks.

Within the story innocent memories of childhood experiences are remembered through the eyes of Kathy H, the stories narrator. Kathy is now 31 years old and a carer; throughout the story she looks back on her life and the experiences she has had both at Hailsham and  in her life beyond the school. During this introspective process she begins to realise and summarise what her life has been about and what her place in this alternate England is.

Kathy often speaks in a confused voice using statements like I think this happened for this reason, or I imagine it was because of this; there is a lack of solid confidence to her musings. There is always a sense that the truth of Kathy’s world and her life is been kept from her and alongside Kathy we embark on a journey into her past learning the reality of her world and the purpose of her existence. Our confusion is matched by Kathy’s who is always poking at the truth trying to understand it and the world around her. An example of this is when Tommy, Kathy’s close friend in the novel, has a peculiar conversation with Miss Lucy, one of the guardian’s at the Hailsham school. Miss Lucy says something unusual about Tommy’s art work  and the art work of all the students which they religiously produce. Both Kathy and Tommy set about, with raised suspicions, trying to read into the peculiar exchange that Tommy has had with Miss Lucy. The children are compelled by a sensation that something their guardian has said to them pertains to some unknown truth relating to their lives. Kathy looks back on this encounter and tries to understand it’s significance and what it means.

The book is made of similar memories like this that Kathy goes over and it’s through this method of story telling that the sensation is created that something sinister is lurking behind the students lives. Ishiguro continually makes reference to the idea that the children are being told the truth but not properly been told it. This concept is captured perfectly in this episode with Miss Lucy and it is one that presides throughout.

It is also through Katy’s eyes that we begin to witness the powerful and strong bond between the novels central characters Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. A set of friends whose circumstances have tightly bound them together enclosing them all in an intense and endearing friendship. However as they begin to encounter adolescence and all of the woes that this brings with it, their once strong and solid friendship must face tumultuous changes as they all individually try and establish themselves in this world. Sometimes pushing each other away in order to establish individuality but also sometimes clinging on, desperately wanting to sustain the bonds that have always so tightly bound them. This friendship  is depicted beautifully with heartbreaking precision. The result is a shattering depiction of three friends growing up  both together and apart.  He also masterfully explores ideas of fate; depicting an image of characters urgently trying to change and alter their destiny’s; but are the destiny’s already determined?

What makes Ishiguro’s story so powerful is the way he creates an imaginative and shocking alternative image of England and blends it so artfully in with the rest of the story. This adds an edge to the story and an original new dimension. There is always the sense that something dark and disturbing is at play and like Katy we are curious to unravel the mysteries of the story. Don’t be surprised if this story becomes master of your curiosity. Ishiguro deftly combines two seemingly separate ideas within his novel, the relationship between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, and this new England. He skilfully weaves them together so they work in unison which other; neither one detracting the other from the devastating affect that they have upon the reader. Perhaps that’s because Ishiguro manages to paint an image of this alternate England so subtly so that the reality of this image creeps upon the reader slowly and quietly, rather than being loud and abrasive. Thanks to this delicate depiction ‘Never Let Me Go’ allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the lives of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth; providing the reader with a close and intimate look into the their complicated relationship.

Certainly when I finished this novel I felt that all of the subtle, underlying clues that had been creeping to the surface truly hit me with a strong impact. Ishiguro has crafted his prose in such a way that the true implications and force of the novel are slowly unravelled and because of this they are all the more shocking. This is a novel that will stick with you long after reading it and have you thinking and talking about it for some time to come.

The climax of Kathy’s story is also one of high impact; we tensely follow Kathy on her journey through life, and share with her the intense friendship with her, Ruth and Tommy; so as the novel reaches the end we too cannot help but feel a protectiveness over Kathy and her friends, a desperation to unveil how their relationship will conclude and were life will eventually take them. It was, for me, the beautifully described bond between the three central characters that moved me so much and in the final throws of the novel in particular I found myself deeply touched by the overall journey their friendship takes.

This was a fantastic book and definitely a book hugging moment. It’s the first book I’ve read by Kazuo Ishiguro, can anyone recommend any of his other work? Have you read this novel, are you a fan or did you not enjoy the story? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



5 thoughts on “Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. Wowsers what a review, I can tell you certainly loved this one. Its interesting as I find Kathy’s rather silent, monotone and distant narration really, really worked for me but I know a lot of readers have struggled with it. I think it adds something and there are reasons behind it. I loved this book, I can say no more than that… oh hang on I will, try A Pale View of Hills. It is Ishiguro’s debut novel and not long ago it completely bowled me over.

  2. I know, I couldn’t stop raving about it as soon as I finished it, been talking about it non stop so really enjoyed reviewing it. I’ve heard similar opinions from people who found Kathy’s narration distant and off putting but it really worked for me, I thought realistically that was how she would think and feel. It helps to hit home the reality and implications of their lives (trying not to say too much here)

    I haven’t read A Pale View of Hills, how is it compared to Never Let Me Go? Was it better or can it not be compared like this?

  3. Pingback: April Rounded Up and May’s Mission « I hug my books

  4. yesterday I was at the meeting with Kazuo Ishiguro, I went there only because it was for free at my Uni. After seeing a movie which I didn’t enjoy I didn’t have plans to read a book. Then I listened to Kazuo and I was so moved by his wisdom and simplicity that after the meeting I run to the nearest bookstore and bought a copy of Never Let Me Go just to be back in time to get it singed. Thank you for your review, I have to read this book now…as the author himself is a writer who deserves attention!

    • Hi Ula, did you finish Never Let Me Go? I hope you enjoyed it, it’s one of my absolute favourites. Read it a year ago and I’ve found very few books since that live up to this one. P.s a signed copy? I’m jealous.

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