This is one of the most hauntingly beautiful novels I have read. I had some inclinations of how beautiful it was from reading the synopsis and reading Robert’s review and author post over at 101 Books. Now before we go any further, if you haven’t read the book, go here and read the book description. After you’ve read it, If you have any desire to read the book, don’t read this review. Although I don’t tell everything, and actually leave out a good bit, it still reveals a lot.
Prior to Robert’s posts, all I knew about Never Let Me Go, was that it was short listed for the Man-Booker Prize in 2005, but was over-shadowed by Ishiguro’s better known book (and prize winner) Remains of the Day. After reading his review, I realized he book was tangentially similar to Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook which I read in high school and the book quickly jumped up my reading list/it came in at the library.
Time Magazine included Never Let Me Go on its List of 100 Best Novels (since 1923) and once I finished reading I wanted to find out why. The critics said:
“Set in a darkling alternate-universe version of England, and told with dry-eyed, white-knuckled restraint, Never Let Me Go is an improbable masterpiece, a science fiction horror story written as high tragedy by a master literary stylist. It’s postmodern in its conception, but Ishiguro isn’t playing games or chasing trends: The human drama of Never Let Me Go, its themes of atrocity and acceptance, are timeless and, sadly, permanent.”
And they were right. From the round-about way we learn about Ruth, Tommy and Kathy and their pre-ordained futures, to how matter-of-fact they are about their own futures even after they’ve explored a single opportunity to ‘escape’. The entire novel is built around one quote,
“Your life must now run the course that’s been set for it.”
Although this quote doesn’t appear until nearly 3/4 of the way through the novel, it is truly the premise of the novel. It’s hard to write about the emotions, the sense of unjustness, and the sense of loss this novel left me with. I felt drained and emotionally bedraggled when I finished and it’s taken me two days to even begin writing this.
A large portion of this has to do with the simple, yet beautiful nature of Ishiguro’s writing. There was rarely anything overstated or any technical jargon and it was never forced. Even the awkward teenage sex-talk seemed simple and relatively elegant compared to many other novels. Although Time called it a dystopic tragedy, it is still a love story and an incredibly moving love story about love, loss and friendship.
I believe Ishiguro created the emotional impact the way he did by choosing Kathy looking back on her life as the narrator. If he wrote the novel any other way the impact would’ve been negligible—in all likelihood it would’ve been sterile. Through various anecdotes and hinted conversations, the reader quickly discovers students at Hailsham are different. It’s made clearer later in the novel that the students are ‘donors’, genetically engineered organ farms. The details remain a bit hazy throughout the novel even at the end, but in essence the students are called upon at some point once they reach maturity to donate their vital organs to the ‘normal’ general population. Those that are not ‘students’ and are not ‘donors’ are carers, taking care of those who have already become donors.
I won’t go into many more details as there is still a lot more of the story you can experience, but I’m honestly surprised I wasn’t bawling when I finished the last few chapters (it probably helped I was reading on my lunch break at work).
Recommendation: Read it. This is one of those novels I will purchase a copy and keep as not only is it beautifully written, but the story itself is so tragically beautiful that I’m sure I will remember it more than any other novel I’ve read this year.
Opening Line: “My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.”
Closing Line: “The fantasy never got beyond that—I didn’t let it—and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.” (Whited out.)
“Gay sex, incidentally, was something we were even more confused about. For some reason, we called it “umbrella sex”; if you fancied someone your own sex, you were “an umbrella.” (94)
“I do like the feeling of getting into my little car, knowing for the next couple of hours I’ll have only the roads, the big grey sky and my daydreams for company.” (206)
“So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter.” (261)
“I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.” (270)