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Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover
The plot of Never Let Me Go (2005) is revealed slowly but, in keeping with many of Ishiguro’s other novels, deals with repression, blind obedience, and the heavy load that life can place on one’s shoulders. The novel follows Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy as they move through Hailsham, their idyllic but mysterious boarding school, to their adult lives as ‘carers’ and ‘donors’. The truth of the trio’s existence is gradually uncovered through Kathy’s understated narrative as she looks back over their short lives, creating a personal and moving story.

Although the novel deals with scientific dilemmas and great moral ambiguities, the human condition is Never Let Me Go’s most important theme. The main characters all carry a heavy burden and their struggle to deal with the patchy knowledge they have, and the slow erosion of hope as the inevitability of their destiny becomes clearer, is symptomatic of a much wider human frailty. In Ishiguro’s customary style, the characters repress their emotions and deal internally with the cruel inequity of their lives, leaving them with a pallid existence. Ultimately, the quiet acceptance of one’s life and the failure to more violently resist its passing is challenged.

As ever Ishiguro’s prose is gentle and perfectly paced; through Kathy’s narration, the story is revealed with beautiful subtlety. By splitting the novel into two distinct periods in the characters' lives (their time at Hailsham, and their adult lives) the fragility and shortness of their young lives is emphasised.

Never Let Me Go is one of Ishiguro’s most readable novels and his finest study of repression since The Remains of the Day. Some readers might find the plot twists a little predictable, but the real beauty is in the perfectly observed psychology of the central characters and the significance for one’s own life.

I have to admit, this is probably my favourite Ishiguro novel. I found the whole story heart-breaking and the suffocating repression displayed by the central characters so perfectly evocative of the human condition.


Useful Links
Reviews of Never Let Me Go on Amazon (UK)
Film Adaptation of Never Let Me Go on Amazon (UK)

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Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day (1989) is a simple, heart-breaking story of personal repression and missed opportunities. The novel is narrated by Stevens, an English butler clinging on to old world gentility while the world around him embraces the new... [Read More]

28 comments:

Fantastic review. And brilliant website. I will be sure to link to you on my site! Stay awesome!

Thanks very much Aidy, I love the design of your blog too! Just having a browse now :)

Hope to catch you about in the lit-sphere.

I have been curious to see the film version since it came out - have you seen it? What did you think?

I haven't. Like most readers I don't think film adaptations ever really recreate the atmosphere and brilliance of great novels, and so I refuse to watch big screen versions of a few choice works for fear they will in some way detract from my future enjoyment of the book. Never Let Me Go falls into this category for me. (Plus Keira Knightley's in it!)

I have watched, and loved, The Remains of the Day, although with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson I felt I was in safe hands. :)

Great review. Thanks for posting it and for stopping by to read my thoughts on this book too. This is a great site you've got here!

Thanks very much, I've been enjoying having a browse around your blog too - so much broader than mine! I look forward to reading more in the future :)

Great review - it is interesting how we all have a different take on the same material, well maybe not a different take, but how certain elements appeal to us differently. I must admit did not pick up on the feeling of repression in the same way - I thought Kathy, Tommy and Ruth acted the way they did in not resisting their destiny simply because they were not equipped to do so - nurture winning over nature so to speak. Nice blog - I look forward to reading more.

Yes, it is fascinating isn't it sparrowreads? As I was reading other peoples reviews I really marvelled at how differently people interpret certain lines, etc.

Have you read The Remains of the Day, or any of Ishiguro's other novels? Perhaps its because this reserve, this stiff upper-lip business, is something we English like to promote as one of our central characteristics (whether it still applies or not). The quote in your review is a really good choice, it shows Kathey at about as emotional as any of the characters get and yet its a quick tear and on we go - extraordinary when you consider the harsh reality of their lives, others might scream and shout, fight with everything they had to change their reality, but they don't, not in any meaningful sense. It's heartbreaking and yet don't we all do this in some way?

This was my first Ishiguro novel and I wasn't sure what to expect. Considering the plot, it was very understated. I kept thinking "Am I reading this correctly? Is what I think it going on really happening?" It was odd but intriguing.

I think I would definitely have struggled with it had it been my first Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day is the best starting point for me, simple, clear, and poignant. I'm working my way through The Unconsoled at the moment - now that is hard work, intriguing, but hard work!

Another great review. I am haunted by this book. I think everyone should read it.

Completely agree - it's a fascinating book, haunting definitely. Definitely one that creates debate. Have you seen the film?

I kind of accidentally watched the movie before reading the book. Now I have the book at home, but I'm afraid to read it, because even the movie was really intense.

:o Oh no, rookie mistake Petra! lol. From the trailers the movie looks a lot more dramatic than the book. It's still a pretty intense read though, give it a go - it's definitely worth it.

Did you enjoy the film?

Haha :P
Oh yeah, it was quite dramatic, especially some scenes, it's easy for movies to be dramatic. But I liked it a lot (and I don't mind Keira:)), only it was really sad and painful. The way they wasted their lives and passively accepted everything, that was just really difficult to watch. I mean it is amazing story, but heartbreaking as well.

Very true. I find it hard to imagine the story being told in such a dramatic style - I really like Ishiguro's understated style - it feels so much truer to life.

It is a sad story, and definitely a cautionary one - seize everyday, and don't find yourself wondering what could have been!

Exactly, and don't let anyone to tell you what to do. Also try for things even though failure is possible, and in some cases just keep on trying :)

Yep, that's it. I think that was the frustration at the end of the story, when the characters tried to escape there fate, but only within the context that had been laid out for them. Kind of reminded me of a famous psychology study, Zimbardo's prison experiment - ever heard of it?

Sure I've heard about that, and I agree, none of them ever questioned the conditions they were living in. The same with the people taking part in the experiment. Everyone so easily slipped into their roles, and when things got terrible nobody was able to say "I've had enough, I'm going home." It also reminds me of the movie The Wave. Have you seen it?
BTW, these experiment are quite scary and inhuman too. The worst I can think of is the Milgram experiment.

You studied psychology, right? I've been eying Jung's Red Book for some time now and it's quite pricey. But I think I'll buy it eventually anyway. It's worth it, isn't it? :)

Yes, exactly that. Good psychology knowledge :) I think I'd rather pretend-electrocute people than get locked up myself, but eh, each to his/her own :P

I've not seen or heard of The Wave, just looked it up though - it does sound like a fascinating watch.

The Red Book has got to be worth buying, although it is a lot of money. I'd love to have a look at it some time. We didn't study all that much Jung that I remember.

Well, I know something, but my knowledge of psychology is rather superficial :)
Oh well, I would prefer not to do either :P

Yeah, it is definitely a fascinating movie.

I like Jung's ideas, especially the one saying that we should accept our dark side, acknowledge it in order to have a better control over it.
What about Lacan? I like Lacan! :)

Seems like you know plenty to me!

Mmm, embracing our dark side - sounds appealing. :P

Psychoanalysis isn't as popular in England as it is in America, so we probably haven't studied Lacan as much as others, but his interpretation of Freud's work is definitely interesting.

Good, that was my intention! :)
But really, teachers mention all these experiments a lot, so it would be weird not to remember them :)

It should sound appealing to someone who wants to wear capes! :P
Seriously, it's better to admit we have vices than to pretend that we are pure beings, that's just ridiculous :)

Makes sense, there are mostly American teachers at my school, and Freud-Lacan-Zizek are quite popular. But it's more about sociology than psychology.

You know, from talking to people, I think the education in much of Europe is far better and broader than what we get here in England. If I mentioned Zimbardo, very few people would have known what I was talking about!

Definitely better to acknowledge our vices, and I guess the American teachers might explain it :)

Interesting, the B&B owner (where I was staying) told me the same. I was really surprised. Honestly, I would expect that in the US rather than in the UK. And is it more about high schools, or colleges and universities, or both?

Well, the Americans living in Europe are certainly able to admit they've got vices, but I'm sure there are some in the US who would swear they've got none :)

Ah, well where the American lead, we follow. Education in this country makes me pretty frustrated sometimes, still it has it's good points.

Haha, well we all have our delusional moments :)

Too bad. Yeah, you've still got Oxford and Cambridge! :)

Without doubt :)