Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Never Let Me Go
We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.

Growing up, Kathy lived at a private boarding school in Hailsham, along with several other students - all secluded from the outside world and made to believe that they were special. Often though, they came across hints that there was more to the picture than met the eye - for instance, when a certain teacher always asserted vehemently that the kids need to know what was coming. Right from the beginning of the book, Kathy, now in her thirties, talked about Donations and recovery centers as if they are the norm, so as the reader, we know there's something not quite right with this world. Kathy is now a "Carer", someone who looks after "Donors", and during her stint as a Carer, she comes across two of her closest friends from school - Ruth and Tommy - from whom she didn't exactly depart on the nicest of terms. But now, she gets an opportunity to fix things while they are dying and during the process, she relives her school days and the things they learned.

Kazuo Ishiguro can certainly write a beautiful hand. Even though I didn't love this book or connect with it, I loved losing myself in the pages and just reading them, no matter what. I have read a short story by Ishiguro a few years back and there is a very detached and dystopian quality to his writing. He revels in the strange world and I have since heard that most of his books are similar so it can get a little tiring reading his books after a few of them. His writing also has a sense of nostalgia, almost as if I, not Kathy, was reliving my memories.

Never Let Me Go is narrated as a series of memories and anecdotes, through a long continuous prose. This style bothered me quite a bit because I couldn't quite understand where the story was going. Besides, I am not a fan of books that have a higher proportion of past experiences versus what is happening in the present. The present is necessary to show how the character has evolved since the events of the past. Kathy spends the first three-quarters of the book sharing her childhood experiences and for the most part, they weren't directed towards understanding their dystopian world. This is where this book differs from most other dystopian novels, in which someone is always trying to beat the system and win their freedom. There is no rebellion here or any major uprising intended to overthrow a corrupt practice. Instead, the characters easily settle into their way of life (they do have some minor quibbles) but a chunk of the story is dedicated to Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy - their dystopian world just happens to be incidental.

When you look at Kathy's world from that perspective, the story feels more purposeful. Kathy and her friends appear as just any other bunch of youngsters. But they have their misunderstandings, and it is at the end of one that Kathy leaves to start her training as a Carer. While at the school, they have frequent exhibitions, where every student puts up something he or she created for sale. Some of these items are taken away by a mysterious Madame and the students all assume that she has a secret Gallery where all those exhibits are stored. It isn't until later in the book that the significance of the Gallery is revisited. But throughout their days at the school, there is no parent or sibling who comes to visit them, they are never taken outside on a field trip, and the school feels as isolated as can be.

There isn't any major moment of revelation when they learn about their place in the world. I did expect a little more fanfare because I am sure if I were one of them, I would be immensely depressed with the news. The characters in Never Let Me Go easily accepted their fate and went about their responsibilities with very little opposition. For this reason, I couldn't care too much about the characters. I spent most of the last quarter of the book questioning the morals of the situation and feeling offended on part of the characters, but Ishiguro stressed more on the triangle relationship of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, which I could care very less about.

Ultimately, I was disappointed with this book. The writing made it worth it but the book had a depressing feel around it, even though I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I was honestly fed up of Ruth, and I could never understand why Kathy wanted to stick with her. And while I appreciated that Ishiguro chose to show a world where the victims go with the flow, almost as if they were trained not to oppose, we all know that isn't the way with the real world.


I borrowed this book from the good old library.

13 comments:

Ti Reed said...

Too sterile and the characters seemed wooden to me, especially Kathy. But I think maybe that is what the author was going for. The lack of feeling is significant, I think.


He has a new book coming out in March, The Buried Giant. I was declined for it. I feel like such a winner!!

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

I need more than beautiful writing so I'll probably skip this even though it's hard to resist a protagonist named Kathy.

Niranjana said...

I'm sort of on an upbeat fiction roll...I think I'll save this one for when I have more energy! --Niranjana @ Brown Paper

Reno said...

Hm, I think I felt the same way when I first read this book...I didn't care for it much. But after watching the film, I read it a second time and I loved it! It's one of my favourites now. I wonder what changed my mind about it.

Techeditor said...

When I read comments from readers of this post, I'm sorry to see that you've turned off many from reading Ishiguro's books. They, including this one, are used in college-level classes. And your analysis Of this book is just just one. I will be at a book event with Kazuo Ishiguro in March at the University of Michigan. I hope people will try his books and see for themselves.

Belle Wong said...

I'm not too sure about this one, but I really want to read The Buried Giant.

Becca said...

I agree with Ishiguro's writing style - it's gorgeous but very detached. I read a collection of his called Nocturnes and that's an excellent way to describe how it felt.

Trish said...

I adore Ishiguro's writing but it is a bit quieter (or as you noted without fanfare). This one didn't strike me quite as much (can't remember why now) but Remains of the Day is one of my favorite books. Last year I loaned it to my dad and was so disappointed when he returned it and basically said "So?" Sigh. Ishiguro is a writer---though sometimes it feels as though something never happens. I will look forward to his new book coming out soon, though!

Care said...

I thought the movie was pretty good. :)

iliana said...

Unfortunately I haven't read this one because when it came out there was so much hype around it that I just put it off. I have really enjoyed a few other of his books and his book, The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite reads. Do you think you'll try to read another of his books?

literaryfeline said...

This is one I want to read, but have not yet. It has sat on my TBR shelf for years now, waiting as patiently as it can for its turn to come. I still want to read it, even after reading your review. It's good to go into it with some understanding of what to expect, I think, at least in this case. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Athira!

Nishita said...

I found the non-rebellion a little strange too, but at the same time the whole story was so moving, that I didn't mind it so much.

Nadia Santos said...

While it's always true that a
great novel will mean different things to each person who reads it, I
believe that this is particularly the case with Never Let Me Go. There
is so much thought-provoking stuff packed inside this relatively short
novel that its title becomes prophetic -- you won't stop thinking about
it for a long while.

Nadia
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