This is my second time reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece ‘Never Let Me Go.’ First time, I read it after watching the movie based on the novel when I was in an Andrew Garfield phase and watched all the movies he is in. While I did not expect a simple and light-hearted movie, I did not think that it would break my heart to the point I still cry at the ending. Because of this emotional reaction, I did not re read it for years, but still remembered the main plot twist and some of the plot. However, when my book club unanimously chose this book for our June read, I was quite excited as it gave me a perfectly good reason as to why I would torture myself again.
It is important to note that I will try to make this review as spoiler free as possible, but if you have not read the book (or watched a movie), I would not recommend you to read this review now.
Our narrator is Kathy, now a thirty-something year old who is remembering her time in Hallisham, a seemingly idyllic boarding school as well as some years after leaving it. Her narration recalls her childhood and young adult years, but this is by no means a children’s book. The other two important characters in the novel are Ruth and Tommy, her friends. In fact, that is as much as I can tell you without spoiling the story to you. But seriously, please do read Ishiguro! While a lot of time is dedicated to their relationship, I did not at any time felt like the story was dragged or rushed. In fact, one of the best aspects of Ishiguro’s writing is the slow burn of the story. Given that this is sort of Kathy’s memoir, her jumbled timeline made sense for me. It may take a bit of time to get into her narration, especially the timeline, but once you do, it truly is rewarding.
Just like with another one of Ishiguro’s incredible books ‘The Remains of the Day’, from the start of the novel, it is obvious that something is not quite right. Over time, gradually it becomes obvious what that is exactly. In ‘Never Let Me Go’, there is no one moment in which the truth is revealed in a giant telenovela ‘yo soy tu madre’ moment. Instead, this comes over time. In fact, on my second reading aware of the main plot and the plot twist, I focused more on the bread crumbs Ishiguro leaves throughout the novel. Speaking of more technical parts, I also really enjoyed the use of language in the novel. Sometimes, when older authors try to replicate the way kids, teenagers and young adults speak it comes across as stilted and as try hard. This is not the case with Ishiguro as he must have a great ear and replicates the language used brilliantly. Thinking back on the novel now, I cannot imagine the characters speaking in any other way than the ones depicted in here. The language is perfectly logical. As the characters develop and change (or arguably do not really) their expressions and ways of expressing themselves do as well.
In terms of characters, they are all introduced as first name and first letter of the last name. Even though many efforts by external forces in the book universe have been made to dehumanize them, and Ishiguro attempts not to make any judgment, it is clear that these people are nothing but just that…people. They do not have a huge character arc or big changes in their lives, simply because they were not allowed. Still, despite that, a lot of time is dedicated to developing their relationships and them as characters. Of course, our narrator is an unreliable one with a narrow point of view and interests, so we are given that world as well. Ruth, Tommy and all the others are described only through Kathy’s eyes. Given how much closer to Ruth and Tommy she was than other, it would only make sense she talks more about them than others. Without revealing too much of the book plot, Tommy’s whole existence keeps breaking my heart.
Ishiguro’s work does not shy away from some very important and relevant topics. Here, what I liked was the way in which the topic at hand was discussed. Instead of offering his own opinion and ideas, Ishiguro simply told us a story through the eyes of one of the people involved in it. This approach was quite successful and in the sea of dystopian horror narratives, it stood out as quite original and interesting. The significance of this book lays as much in what was said as in with what was not. It leaves a lot of room for further discussions about the topics of ethics and humanity, and this is where its impact was the most successful.
Despite being aware of the big plot twist this time around, ‘Never Let Me Go’ still broke me into a million pieces. The start of the book and description of a place that sounds too good to true is highly contrasted with the second and third part of the book where it is revealed that staying at such a place comes with a really high price to pay. This is a book that stayed with me for so long and whenever I thought of it, scene of Tommy just yelling out of desperation came to my head. If you had never read Ishiguro before, first of all you are truly missing out. However, I would suggest you to start with ‘Remains of The Day’ before diving into this heartbreak of a novel. I promise you will not regret it.
This is one of the rare books I read this year I rated 5/5 both times I read it. In terms of technical aspects of reading, it is not hard to read, but in terms of topics and the plot, it is one of the hardest and saddest books I have read in a long time.
Did you read this book? Did you read anything else by Ishiguro and if so what were your thoughts? As always, if I had missed something, let me know in the comments down below.