Seth T.'s Reviews > Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Feb 08, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: bookclub
Read in October, 2009

I'm always excited when I run across a novel that is, so far as I can tell, essentially perfect. Never Let Me Go is one of those. There is not a single thing wrong with this book. Ishiguro is a master craftsman and it shows here.

The novel's characterizations are pitch perfect. Its narrative flow reveals things in exactly the right order. Mystery is preserved until it no longer matters and then, under the light of revelation, we discover the mystery was never the thing that mattered. Ishiguro plays with the reader as he unfolds his exploration of what it means to live—but never does so unfairly or at the expense of his characters' right to dignity and reality (a right that he very much does grant his characters).

Never Let Me Go is narrated from nearly a decade before its publication. As Kathy quietly reminisces from her vantage in the late 1990s, she gradually comes to explore a life fraught with meaning and purpose—and fraught simultaneously with that kind of superlative meaninglessness that Ecclesiastes bemoans in all of its somber weariness. Kathy is a caregiver to recuperating donors and relates her special pleasure in the few instances in which she had been able to offer care to those who had been students at the exclusive (and, as it turns out, much envied) Hailsham, where she herself grew up. Memories of Hailsham water a fertile delta of memories through which we gradually come to understand both Kathy and the world she has inherited—a world filled both with much light and much darkness.

In other words, a world much like mine or yours. Still, Kathy's story is unique and it is in her own tale's peculiarities that our own is better revealed. Better explored.

Some may be tempted to see Never Let Me Go as ethical question and admonishment to this generation of readers and to the one that follows us. Certainly, that is there, but only as mise-en-scène to the larger panorama of a woman's quest to discern her past, present, and future from a glut of memories (some of which are only mostly trustworthy or even trusted) and how that journey sheds light on questions more important than mere ethical concerns. In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro continues to play as he has in past works with memory and perception and how memory is so often the primary defense against perspicacity, yet as his narrator is acutely aware of her own remolding of history through nostalgia and forgetfulness, we are assured that perspicuity is not his target here.

No. I believe Never Let Me Go is much more a perfectly plotted meditation (and its style is itself quite meditative) on the human condition, the place of our own hands in shaping our destinies, and what it means to live. These could all be clichéd topics but Ishiguro approaches with such a vaguely detached sublimity that he breathes (through Kathy his narrator) a certain verdant spirit into these things. They are never treated as anything more than mundane, but it is precisely by that treatment that he gives his purpose such power and impact.
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04/15 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Sarah You've convinced me to give him another try. I've only read "Artist of the Floating World" because I (forgive me) watched Remains of the Day and thought it was fabulous. I thought "Artist" neglected plot for the sake of imagery (like a bad blow-em-up film . . . who needs a story when you can watch seventeen minivans burst into flames and then hit a low-flying helicopter?). It may have been my mood; who knows.


Seth T. I haven't had a chance to read Artist yet. I think it's his only book not available on Kindle. I've been saving remains of the Day for last, since its supposed to be his seminal work. From everything I've heard though, Never Let Me Go is his best since Remains. It was definitely better than When We Were Orphans (which has some awesome conceits, but I'm not sure how to judge its climax) and The Unconsoled (which is fabulous and grueling in its experimentalism).


Seth T. p.s. I wish you guys were still around local, so you could be in our book club. Michelle and I would love to chat around some of these books with you and Chris.


message 4: by Rindy (new) - added it

Rindy Carbis thank you for your review...anxious to read this book...62 year old woman still wondering about life's meaning or not


Seth T. Well, you might not find the answer in Ishiguro's book, but you'll almost certainly find a lot of questions. Which are almost—but not quite—as good.


message 6: by Rindy (new) - added it

Rindy Carbis thank you


message 7: by Emily (new)

Emily Voice of reason. Thank you.


message 8: by Penelope (new)

Penelope Well after reading part of your comment on the book, I will try to stick it out. Just read a whole chapter about a pencil case. It's very slow


Seth T. Hah, well, don't kill yourself over it. Just because I found something worthwhile doesn't mean it will scratch your itch. Maybe give it another thirty or forty pages and if its not you, then it's not you. And who knows, maybe if it's not you now, it will be ten years from now. Books, after all, are like that.


Sherry I really like the following observations you made: "Ishiguro plays with the reader as he unfolds his exploration of what it means to live—but never does so unfairly or at the expense of his characters' right to dignity and reality (a right that he very much does grant his characters)." "They are never treated as anything more than mundane, but it is precisely by that treatment that he gives his purpose such power and impact." I had a feeling, while I was waiting and waiting for the story to "start", that I was missing the treasure hidden therein. Thank you for revealing it to me. (I did find a golden nugget at the end, and cried during the river analogy.)


message 11: by Max (new) - rated it 5 stars

Max Great Review!!!


Nevada I like your review, even if I didn't like the book. I think if I could have read the book the way you described it I would have liked it much more.


message 13: by Roger (new)

Roger "Mystery is preserved until it no longer matters and then, under the light of revelation, we discover the mystery was never the thing that mattered. " Spot on, Sir.


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