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Review 170:
January 2021

 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

First Published: 2005

Internet entries:

 Kazuo Ishiguro.

The author:
Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

What sort of imagination is it that can take the theme of organ donation and turn it into novel? Kazuo Ishiguro has taken that theme and (some of us thought) created a masterpiece. The novel draws the developing relationships of Ruth, Tommy and Kathy as they grow up and seek happiness whilst facing the menacing certainties of Ishiguro’s dystopian world.

The book is clever, could have been classified as detective fiction, a love story, science fiction, a dystopia, or just a triangular story. The book created a spectrum of reactions from club members from creepy, spooky and scary, disturbing, to powerful, heart-wrenching, touching, and very much thought-provoking. At a more mundane level, some club members were simply irritated by the style, reacting with. “Oh, just get on with it” or “I was forced to read it too slowly for my liking”. One reader experienced stomach churning dissonance, and another “just sheer horror”.

The story follows the lives of three students, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, and Kathy’s “voice” is used as the narrator. The three grow up together in Hailsham, a location that has significance through the novel, and follows them as they “graduate” and take on their assigned roles of carer and donor. The setting is essentially late 20th Century England, specific places being named.

The writing is immediately approachable, and the characters are believable, neither saintly, nor adorable, but not repulsive nor ugly; and because of this normalcy their fate as it is revealed via the story line is increasingly emotive. There are twists and turns of sadness at the end of the story; whilst hard to follow this was the correct ending for this challenging novel.

The characters are drawn well. There was a good depiction of childhood and adolescence, and a set of relationships that one might find in an English boarding school. One reader felt that the “coming of age” was described sensitively and beautifully. They move on to become young adults developing their relationships, and trying to understand their place in society. They ask profound questions.

We learn towards the end of the book that the people who “made it all happen” had great qualms seeing the youngsters as “poor creatures” and experiencing revulsion as if they were spiders. Indeed, this could have been an exploration of racism. There was a conflict between Madame’s and Miss Lucy’s views; this led to the question, “how much should we tell children about the world, and when”?

The book is not perfect. We had some un-answered questions:

  • Why didn’t they “disappear” and start a new life somewhere else.
  • With so much sex taking place why were there no babies.
  • Does artwork reveal the soul of the artist?

Deeper questions for more discussion:

  • How do we bring together science versus empathy and kindness?
  • How does the concept of the soul relate to a cloned organism

Aspects of the book that we didn’t understand as a group included the science content and whether Ishiguro’s Japanese background had influenced the story.

Overall this is a powerful novel, asking readers to think about challenging conceptual and moral issues.

4 1/8 stars.
PC. 10th January 2021.