Marius Gabriel's Reviews > Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing


Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the finest novelists writing in English today. Reviewing his books is always a challenge, partly because it is hard to discuss any of them without giving away the plot to some degree -- no, they don't get together in "The Remains Of The Day," no, you never find out what is going in in "The Unconsoled," and yes, "Never Let Me Go" is about human clones raised so that their organs can be transplanted into "real" people.

Don't worry, however. Knowing that will not have spoiled this novel for you in any way. That scenario is merely the starting-point for a wonderfully immersive reading experience that is classical Ishiguro -- a dreamy, sometimes melancholy, always gripping novel in which the banal surface of everyday lives, thoughts and conversations is pierced by sudden glimpses of hideous cruelty and indifference, sudden revelations of rage and despair.

Some reviewers have approached the book as sci-fi, and have been disappointed that the story seems too simple, or that the vision of human nature is too bleak.

But Ishiguro is far too clever a writer to offer something as easily categorized as science fiction. Indeed, "Never Let Me Go" is not set in some dystopian future, but in the Britain of the 1980s, the era of Thatcher governments and socialist town councils, concrete tower blocks, dreary New Towns, institutionalized inefficiency and music cassettes. It is a kind of parallel universe in which the past, present and future flow together, mingling today's fears with dread of what is to come and regret for what has passed.

This, too, is classical Ishiguro country, the emotional landscape of "The Remains Of The Day" and "The Unconsoled." The novel is narrated by Kathy, one of the clones, whose task is to provide care for other clones as they pass through successive "donations" to their final "completion." Serene and dutiful, Kathy chronicles the lives of her fellow-clones, which are as dehumanized as whoever is in charge can make them. There are very few points in the novel where "real people" express their sincere opinions. Most of those who do interact with the main characters are in the position of guardians, and in fact the world of "real people" is largely faceless and unknowable to the clones -- except that, raised to have a childlike acceptance of their fate, they also develop a child's-eye instinct for the truth, and this is what makes their story so pathetic and so moving.

The world of the "real people" is thus also unknowable to the reader. We have to guess what that larger society is like, what the 80s and 90s might have been like for people as alienated as Kathy, Tommy and the other clones, how that parallel universe might have existed, in some sense, even though we didn't realize it at the time. We have to ask ourselves, could we really have been so cruel? Were we really so indifferent?

Reading it, I find myself remembering vividly my own life in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, and recognizing a great deal. I am almost exactly the same age as Ishiguro, and came to Britain as an outsider at about the same time he did; and it is my feeling that this book is in part an autobiography, describing what it was like to grow up as an alien, someone who looked different and was different from the rest of that society, and who had to find an identity within in. The theme of losing organs one by one is in some way a paradigm for losing bits of one's original identity as one is absorbed into the larger society until one eventually vanishes into it and "completes."

However, Ishiguro is an infinitely better writer than I am, and perhaps I have misinterpreted him!

"Never Let Me Go" is a powerful novel. It carries with it a sense of gathering darkness as it rolls along, exploring questions that trouble us all in the second decade of the 21st Century. As with other Ishiguro novels, the real revelation is that the book is not about what it seems to be about. Each reader will have to decide what the real subject of the novel is.
2 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Never Let Me Go.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

March 10, 2014 – Started Reading
March 10, 2014 – Shelved
March 24, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Deb (new) - added it

Deb Please consider labeling your review with SPOILERS at the top. Though you didn't think it would affect the reader who hadn't begun the novel, I differ from that opinion. Please give us the chance to decide. I do appreciate the rest of your review, which seems throughly and thoughfully written.

Marius Gabriel You're absolutely right, Deb, and I apologize deeply if my review took away from your enjoyment. I've labelled the review with a warning!


message 3: by Deb (new) - added it

Deb Thank you, Marius!

back to top