Evan Leach's Reviews > Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Apr 02, 13

bookshelves: booker-nominees, literary-fiction, 2000-2009, english-literature, science-fiction, nbcc-nominees, novels
Read from March 27 to April 02, 2013

This is a difficult book to review without getting spoiler-y, even though the big “reveal” isn’t much of a secret (as the book’s narrator might say, we are “told but not told” very early on). But I’m going to do my best to hide any key surprises behind the ‘spoiler’ tag. The book is told from the perspective of Kathy, a woman in her mid to late 20’s. Kathy grew up at a very special boarding school called Hailsham, and the first third of the book is dedicated to her childhood reminiscences. Early on, it is clear that something is very off about Hailsham, despite Kathy’s rosy memories of growing up there. Sure enough, we learn before this first third is up that Hailsham is (view spoiler)

The rest of the book deals with Kathy’s life post-Hailsham, along with her close friends Tommy and Ruth. I’m not going to go any deeper in the plot, as to do so would give away key elements, but suffice to say Kathy and her companions are forced to deal with (or not, as the case may be) the repercussions of the book’s “secret” and the true purpose of Hailsham. One nice feature of the book’s plot is that by taking the reader along Kathy’s journey from childhood through the present, it allows you to learn the truth along with the narrator, bit by bit. Even if the reader can see the writing on the wall from a pretty early stage, that only builds the sense of dread, and I thought the end result was pretty tragic.

From an early age, Kathy and the other Hailsham students are almost aggressively sheltered. This isolation, combined with a reluctance to look their future (and their role in the wider world) square in the face means that they learn the full story of what’s going on around them very slowly. These chilling glimpses of the truth, contrasted with the idyllic setting of Hailsham and Kathy’s simple narration, accumulate in the reader’s mind and let the horror grow, like Chinese water torture. This novel is advertised as ‘literary fiction’ with sci-fi elements, which is probably accurate, but Ishiguro proves to be a very accomplished horror writer too; at times, this book is downright disturbing (view spoiler).

I am a fan of Mr. Ishiguro’s work, and this is my second favorite of his books (behind the superb The Remains of the Day). I had some niggling problems with it – the book drags a bit at times in the first two sections, when the simple narration and lack of activity bog things down, and I didn’t completely buy that the sci-fi elements present here fit logically into the larger world (although if the book is allegorical on some level, which it probably is, that’s not really relevant). But it all pays off in the third section, which I thought was pretty brilliant. This is not a “feel-good” book in any sense of the phrase, but it will make you feel, and it might make you think. 4.5 stars, highly recommended.
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