Trevor's Reviews > Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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's review
Nov 30, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature
Recommended for: almost anyone
Read in January, 2007

** spoiler alert ** It is a pity that people are told this is a science fiction book before they read it. I feel the least interesting thing about it is that it is science fiction. I mean this in much the same way that the least interesting thing one could say about 1984 is that it is science fiction. As a piece of literature I enjoyed it much more than Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and even more than Huxley's Brave New World.

The themes that make this book most interesting are to do with the social alienation of groups of people on the basis of inherited genetic characteristics. In fact, as a critique of racism this book is utterly brilliant. Those being racially alienated are genetically identical (they are in fact clones) to those attacking them.

Plato believed those 'in the know' should tell lies to those 'who do not know' so as to protect them from the all too horrible truths about life. I have always hated this aspect of Plato, always finding it grotesque and frightening in its implications. Those implications are drawn out in all their disturbing horror here.

This book has much to say about the nature of 'illness' and how those inflicted with an 'illness' use the scars of that illness as the badges of truly belonging to the group. So that those 'less advanced' in the ravages of the illness don't really know or really belong to the group. As a portrait of victims adopting to being victims it says much about us as humans - thoughtful readers may find it says far too much. I write this on World Aids Day.

Ishiguro writes the most nightmarish novels I've ever read. In others, such as The Unconsoled or When We Were Orphans the nightmare feeling is due to the dreamlike oddity of the interconnection of events in the story. One reads these books in much the same way that one wakes from a disturbing dream, with feelings of disorientation and anxiety. Even though this is the most literal 'nightmare book' of his I have read - the world he creates being literally a nightmare, and made all the worse by being set in the recent past - it is a book totally lacking in that strange dreamlike quality so characteristic of these other novels. In this sense it seemed less of a nightmare than these others. If you struggled with these, you will not struggle with this in quite the same way.

He also has fascinating and quite painful things to say about the nature of love and how love has a proper time, a time that may be lost or missed. As someone who has loved, lost and missed I found this particularly challenging. The relationship between sex and love and illness is perhaps something people may find simply too much - not because this is handled in any way that is too explicit, but because I do believe we like to think that sex, as a manifestation of love, has curative and redemptive powers. A book that questions this, questions something we hold very dear and some readers may find this too much to ask.

This is also a book about betrayal. The betrayals we commit against those we love the most and yet that we barely can understand or explain after we have committed them - these are constant throughout the book. He is a writer all too aware of the human condition. The scene which gives the book its title is a wonderful example of the near impossibility of our being understood by others and yet our endless desire for just such an understanding.

There is nothing easy about reading this book - although it is written in the simplest of prose. It has an honesty of feeling that brands one's soul.

I loved this book and have thought about it a lot since I finished reading it and will think about it more. There is much more I would like to say, but there is no space. May we all be good carers before we complete.
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Reading Progress

01/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 151) (151 new)

Kate Merriman I'm glad that no one told me anything about this book before I read it, as it became an intriguing discovery as I got more and more engrossed in the story. I am surprised that people even put this in the category of science fiction. I'd say it was "dystopian" instead.

Callie Your review is so insightful. I read this book and really didn't think much of it honestly. But reading what you have to say about it makes me think about it in a whole different way, makes me think about it for the 1st time actually. Thank you!

message 3: by Helen (Helena/Nell) (last edited Feb 19, 2008 01:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Helen (Helena/Nell) I think I liked two things in particular about the book. One was the transparent simplicity of style which was simply a pleasure to negotiate. Nothing fancy. Appears simple and thus able to handle hugely complex ideas.

The other was the way it left me thinking almost endlessly about the characters and about what was going on.

One of the masterful things about the book is the way it effortlessly introduces its own terms and they are totally believable. So the idea that the individuals who have been cloned from other human beings are fascinated by human beings who might be their 'possibles' is wonderful. Completely 'true'.

And the idea that after four 'donations' one has 'completed'. That is marvellous too. There's a whole world simply in the acceptance and implementation of those terms.

I was fascinated by the narrator and by what she doesn't say, and also by what the novel doesn't do. If this were Orwell and 1964 we would see an attempt by the 'cloned' individuals to fight for their right to exist as individuals, even if that fight failed. But they don't fight. They wholly accept their role in life, and that makes them (and especially the narrator) feel curiously alien, and at the same time curiously real. It's in TV drama that people fight their fates. In reality, they are socialised into accepting them, no matter how unacceptable they are.

It is a terribly sad book. A tragedy.

I do think the weakness is in the last eighth of the book when Ishiguro explains far too much. He was so very good at leaving the reader to accept a world which could be imagined if not fully understood that he didn't need that artificial section at the end in which the teachers explained the world and the thinking behind it. But the short section on the field in high wind where Kathy and Tom have to cling onto each other to stand upright -- that is a marvellous image.

Somebody will make a film out of this novel and people will weep at the end.

Trevor -- the way you noticed the exploration of sexuality and illness -- yes, yes, -that too is so fascinating, and so taboo. And in this novel, subtly understated and therefore potent. Understatement is one of Ishiguro's great strengths. What the characters *don't* have is never underlined -- but they are fatally isolated. They have no families, no cousins or mothers or fathers or aunts. Their peer relationships are all they have, and even those relationships are deficient. It's like the 'real' side of the sitcom *Friends* where everything seems harmonious and at the same time unnatural, because our strongest relationships are rarely with our peers actually, except on tv and among the dispossessed. And also like the nostalgia for childhood novels -- the Enid Blyton novels set in boarding schools, where all the relationships are with other children and the teachers are slightly remote romantic characters.

I was fascinated by the way the characters remembered different details out of their shared past experience, and got slightly annoyed when their friends didn't quite remember it the same way. The past is treacherous in this respect. Baby, baby, never let me go. This novel doesn't let you go. You keep thinking about it. That's good writing for you.

Trevor Excellent - I couldn't help thinking that the life of the clones wasn't all that different to our lives. We all complete, really - they just have a certain structure that we lack. Their tragedy is our tragedy made plain. Which is why the 1984 response would be so hopeless - I've seen the people who fight against 'the inevitable' - they have faces that are so tight that they can't smile and they eat bird seed rather than food.

As Ani Difranco says, "I never thought I could accept all these dark colours, as just part of some bigger colour scheme" - but the dark makes the light so much lighter. The final tragedy of life isn't that we didn't fight against the dark, but perhaps that we never saw it was just as important as the light.

message 5: by Rea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rea I'm glad to see someone else agrees that Ishiguro "revealed" too much at the end. It was a bit of a disappointment as I felt he was falling into the Hollywood "trap", where plots are carefully spelt out for the audience. Although perhaps he might have slightly balanced it out by revealing glimpses of Madame's curious personality.

I also agree with the previous comment about this book should be classed more as a dystopian. I knew nothing about the book when I read it and even when I finished it would never have thought to class it as science fiction until I read the reviews on Goodreads.

Kate Merriman Ginnie,
I love your comment about children and learning about the adult world. I think most of my favorite books explore this dynamic, which is probably why I love the "alien among us" type set-up as much as I dig the dystopian bildungsroman. Good food for thought, thanks!!

julieta What a wonderful review! thanks, I love this book, and this gives it more light and refreshes it for me ( I read it more than 2 years ago) Really enjoyed it!

message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Intriguing review! Thanks.

Trevor Manny, after doing this review writing thing for a while now there are a couple of them that I am still very fond of. This is one of them. Another is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I don't know why I don't review more fiction...

message 10: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Fantastic review. I totally agree, and must reread this. It is a dystopia - it was the book that really got me into dystopias and it's still my favourite. But isn't dystopia just a form of science fiction? This was probably the book that redeemed science fiction for me.

Trevor I should probably re-read it too, but had better not even think about it at the moment. All the same, I'm very fond of this book.

message 12: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger I bought this awhile ago and just found out it was a sci-fi book. I almost put it in the give 'away pile' but then I happened to see your review.
Thanks- I'm definitely going to give it a try now...someday! :)

message 13: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin Thanks for your thoughtful review. I couldn't sleep last night after finishing this book, and your comments have confirmed a lot of the same points I keep mulling over in my mind. I thank you for helping me to expand my own understanding of the plot and its implications.

I think this comment sums it up beautifully:
"There is nothing easy about reading this book - although it is written in the simplest of prose. It has an honesty of feeling that brands one's soul."

Trevor Thanks Erin, as Nell says in message 4, this book never lets you go - I still think about it. I also see he has a new book out, I must get hold of it eventually.

Erica Oh... what a wonderful review. I just finished the book, and felt like I needed to share my feelings about it with someone. Reading your review (especially the bit at the end, about being a good carer) has made me feel like I have talked the book over with someone. Thanks.

Trevor I've written lots of reviews on this site, but this book and this review always seem very special to me. Thanks Erica.

Yrinsyde Erin wrote: "Thanks for your thoughtful review. I couldn't sleep last night after finishing this book, and your comments have confirmed a lot of the same points I keep mulling over in my mind. I thank you for..." I liked this statement too, Erin. I was thinking that NLMG was more of a dystopia than straight science fiction, but in the end I decided to call it a psycho-horror story. I found it a horrible horrible book, but one that made me feel teary and a little sick. The thing I found interesting was that the recipients of these organs were never mentioned. I felt strange reading it - it creeped me out and I wondered if my reaction was influenced by me having a kidney transplant ...

message 18: by Nick (last edited Apr 02, 2010 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nick Helen (Helena/Nell) wrote: " But the short section on the field in high wind where Kathy and Tom have to cling onto each other to stand upright -- that is a marvellous image." Wonderful comment. I agree. Along with the one at the end. So moving. If handled like the scene in the rain with Hopkins & Thompson (Remains of the Day, it will be a classic.

message 19: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger spammer's been reported....

Trevor I've been getting a few of these lately. Thanks for that Eva

message 21: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger I've been seeing more lately also. You'd think they'd get the hint because they're deleted VERY fast. And how many people could really click on those links? :( No problem though, I always flag these and carry the link to the feedback group so they can get rid of them.

Jennifer (aka EM) well, i'd like to thank spammer for drawing me to your excellent review, Trevor. Having just finished The Remains of the Day and Parable of the Sower (a dystopia), I'd like to read this one next. It's going to the top of the to-read list.

Trevor Eva, it does amuse me that someone might think my review of Never Let Me Go would be a good place to sell sports wear. Exercise is one of the things that is missing from my review, admittedly.

Eccentric Muse, excellent, don't let me miss your review if you do read it. I start back at Uni soon and so will disappear again for a few months I'm particularly fond of this book. Have you ever read The Unconsoled? I read it before coming on this site and wouldn't know how to review that book now. He out Kafka's Kafka in it. It is like The Castle only more so.

message 24: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jun 24, 2010 07:39AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) I have not, and now it too is on the to-read list. I'm heading toward an entire summer of dystopias, I think. Happy days!

Trevor A friend of mine got me to read it, said it was her favourite book of all time. After I had started I asked her what she had done to me. It is like one of those dreams, those nightmares, where we do things we know will only turn out for the worst, but which we seem compelled to do them anyway. Summer is probably the best time to read The Unconsoled, don't read it if you are in the least bit depressed or your job has taken a strange and bureaucratic lurch.

Jennifer (aka EM) I am going to have to consider the timing carefully. I now have threefour streams of reading I'm trying to do:
1) dystopias - I need to close the loop on Butler, then Atwood's The Year of the Flood, and then maybe Oryx Crake
2) Ishiguro - first NLMG, then this one (I think?)
3) War & Peace - I promised! I shall not fail!
4) everything else on my top-of-the-nightstand shelf, seven of which just arrived in a box marked today

Job? who has time for a job?

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

SPOILER! Ending Spoiler!


I think he missed an opportunity to humanize the main characters a little more. I wanted Kathy to get outraged a little. To care a little more. Just a little!! I think he dehumanized them to the point where I couldn't care about them.

Trevor Oh, that's interesting - I had the opposite reaction. The 'I will go meet my fate' stuff made them seem all too human and made me care all the more.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Hmmmm....and I was so frustrated. I should try another of his, but i was mad at him. :)

Maria Elena Trevor thank you so much for a brilliant review which made me appreciate this book even though I found the whole concept disgusting. When I finished reading it, though, I went back to the first chapter and re-read it and then everything made more sense, and I was able to see it in a new light. In my opinion Kathy's narrative is a bit tiresome but this is also what kept me turning the pages, my curiosity got the best of me as I wanted to find out what she was going to say next. All in all, depressing, but haunting. Makes you think how we "normals" turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. It also made me think of the "students" as the animals we sacrifice everyday in order to have a good meal (forgive the analogy, I'm not a vegetarian by any means). If I took anything from this book was this: even with their miserable lives, Tommy, Kathy and Ruth were able to love and laugh and live in the moment. Isn't that what it's all about?

Trevor Thanks Maria - yes, I think it is a deeply troubling book and definitely haunting. The idea that we can miss the moment when we can really love undercuts your last line a bit too, unfortunately. Life is so full of contradictions and loss - but you are right, I think, grab it by the throat with both hands and pretend you will always be able to hang on. And I agree with your about the animal comparison, right on the nail.

Jennifer (aka EM) Trevor wrote: "don't let me miss your review if you do read it."

It's up. :-)

I feel almost like I read a different book than you, Trevor. I was not able to read between the lines as you were. I see that's where he wanted me to go, but I couldn't get there.

I'm definitely in the minority re my opinion on this one.

Maria, I agree with your animal comparison. I considered that as a possible parallel, too.

message 33: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Excellent review, Trevor. I read this book today and Ishiguro writes something that is totally different from his best novel, Remains of the Day. You review explains things well including those I would like to say but could not figure it out myself. I have no doubt that Ishiguro is one of the best writers still alive.

Trevor Thanks K.D. - all the best

message 35: by Carol (new)

Carol Neman TREVOR'S REVIEW of NEVER LET ME GO "Somebody will make a film out of this novel and people will weep at the end."

Somebody did and they probably will.

Trevor Oh wow - I must go see this.

message 37: by Christoph (new)

Christoph FYI, you are confusing science fiction and scifi. Read some of the writings on this topic by Harlan Ellison to get the difference.

Trevor Can you point me to some? You are right, I didn't know there was a difference - I just assumed one was an abbreviation of the other.

message 39: by Christoph (new)

Christoph Here is a kind of talking points write up on the issue which cites Ellison:
here is a round-table discussion on the topic on a show ironically on the early days of the scifi network:

In short, the things you think of as science used as plot device or typical allegorical stories cloaked in futuristic or fantastic worlds is sci-fi. Sci-fi is pulp.

Science fiction is serious writing and conceptual investigation in literary environments that are also based on the worlds of the future or future past. Science fiction is authenticity.

The distinction is not always clear. Star Trek deals with some deep concepts from time to time but ultimately its just a swashbuckling story in the future. Similarly for Star Wars. But Solaris is a highly abstract, serious work of science fiction. It just happens to take place in a future involved with space travel. The Children of Men could be considered in this light or the Handmaids Tale (Happy Bday Ms. Atwood). Hope you can start to see the difference here. Bottom line is science fiction is not a pejorative.

Trevor Oh, I see what you mean. I wasn't totally sure if I knew where you were coming from. I quite enjoy science fiction, but my review does start by talking about it being science fiction. Yes, this is science fiction more in the class of some of Atwood's work - or even Orwell or Huxley - and no one should cringe at being compared to that. Thanks for pointing out the distinction.

message 41: by Donna (last edited Dec 11, 2010 03:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Donna You review has articulated so many aspects of this novel that I am not eloquent enough to express, especially the ideas of love, sex and friendship between the three main characters.

I also found 'A Pale View of Hills' quite nightmarish but a little more subtle, even ambiguous than 'Never Let Me Go'. Both are as heartbreaking as each other.

Thanks for the review.

Trevor Thanks Donna. I started A Pale View of Hills a couple of years ago, but became distracted with something else - I must get back to it.

Jessica 'A Pale View of Hills' is excellent.

Heather Thank you for the lovely review Trevor. I enjoyed your writing so much more than the actual novel. I wish the story had articulated these ideas half as well!

Trevor Thanks Heather

message 46: by Trevor (last edited Jan 25, 2011 10:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trevor Thanks Lisa - This is just me, but I think we like to believe we are identical with ourselves, we like to think that we are pretty much the same people throughout our lives, when really we are a series of people over time and if we were ever to meet one of our earlier selves we would have nothing in common with them at all and almost certainly wouldn't like them. We wear our experiences in life as badges of honour - our scars particularly. And so we often surround ourselves with those who share our scars and we assume (often rightly) that those who are not equally marked really could not understand what it is like to be us, to be one of our kind. It is very hard to love someone who is not 'one of us'.

I'm becoming increasingly troubled by the whole idea of identity - how we go about defining who we really are. All too often we define who we are by the friction caused by one of the things that make us up rubbing against those around us. Sorry, this is getting to be all too long, but last year I heard someone talk about identity and it has stuck with me. He talked about a woman who was Catholic in Scotland (as they do the whole Catholic / Protestant thing there nearly as well as they do in Northern Ireland), and then she stopped being Catholic in Northern England (because people didn't really care about her religion, but did care she was Scottish) and so she 'became' Scottish there. And then she went to Oxford where people stopped caring about her being from Scotland (there were people there from all over the world) but what stood out about her was that she was working class. We define who we are too often by how we are different, by the parts of our selves that we need to protect in opposition to the others around us (particularly those in 'power'). So, there are gay communities and good reads communities and other such communities for people who do things the rest of society doesn't like and so need the protection of like minded souls.

I think in the end Kathy reminded Tommy of who he had been, rather than who he had become. I wonder if there was ever a relationship that didn't end for exactly that reason?

message 47: by Carol (last edited Jan 25, 2011 11:41AM) (new)

Carol Neman Wow, something to think about. Reading this, my mind wandered to glimpses of myself in the past and that question of liking or not liking oneself if we were to meet up with that person started niggling around in my mind in an absent-minded way...and probably will for awhile. Perhaps it will be an inspiration to my mind to conjure up more memories (now that there's a real reason to remember).

That's how I know when something has really affected me (magazne, book, tv, movie, or conversation), when I think about it for three days afterward.

message 48: by Trevor (last edited Jan 25, 2011 02:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trevor So people who had been earnest, all-knowing, know-all young men (assured of certain certainties) and who life has taught (if not humility) to see the limits of their understanding tend to cringe and react badly when they bump into young men now who mirror back their younger selves to them. All of which is never a comfortable experience.

If I ever needed the money then the religion I would set up would be based on the idea that not only do you get to live many lives, but that you actually get to be everyone - you get to live the lives of everyone who has ever lived. The people you don't like in life now are the lives you didn't live very well and so the point of this religion would be to encourage you to have another go at trying to understand that part of yourself now. Can't quite work out how to make any money from this idea just yet, which probably only proves that I'm more likely to be the religion's first martyr than first priest.

My main fear, Carol, is that it just might be the case all of the traits we find we dislike in the older people around us may be a kind of dreadful premonition of the person we are about to become. Now there's a scary thought. As I guess there is no reason to think we might like our older selves any more than we might like our younger selves.

Kellie Fantastic review. Thank you.

Trevor Oh no, it is one of the nicest things in the world when someone thinks to leave a comment - thank you.

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