Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: a review
does not contain spoilers.
Never Let Me Go takes us into a dystopian version of 20th century England. Medical advances have eradicated disease, but at what cost? Our narrator is Kathy H., a “carer” at the end of her career who looks back on her apparently idyllic childhood in the Hailsham school. Interwoven with a simple and powerful love story is the implicit story of the broader societal context.
I first became aware of the story when my friend Ellena went to see the movie in preview at the Ghent Film Festival a few years ago. I didn’t see it myself at the time, but she was so impressed that we both immediately bought a copy of the book. As E’s recommendations are generally spot-on, I had high expectations. For regular readers: as you probably know, I have a bit of a soft spot for dystopias of all kinds, so that was an additional attraction.
So what did I think?
Rarely have I felt so deeply about any story as I did about this one. Kathy’s voice is so simple and prepossessing that one cannot help sympathising with her.
I think I sat up until 2 am to finish the story, because I couldn’t bear to wait any longer. I immediately set it down as a re-read classic.
Never Let Me Go unites almost dreamy reflections on the nature of morality with fairly factual descriptions of the events unfolding. Kathy’s perspective is a stroke of genius: lovely and clever, with a clear though selective insight into events now that she looks back on them as an adult. This is combined nicely with her more naive perspective as a child and teen, slowly coming to an understanding as to her place in the world.
The other thing about Kathy is that through it all, she stays so very nice. Despite having quite some justification, there is not a stroke of cynicism in her personality. Because of this, the reader feels for her more acutely that she can feel for herself.
Add to that one of the most natural love stories I have ever read, and the story can fairly be said to approach perfection.
Everyone. Required reading. All the awards. Mandatory reading in high school. A test to see if you have a soul.
Seriously though: unless you absolutely require explosions every other page, I can’t image anyone not getting anything out of this story at all. It is smoothly written and should be easily readable for readers of every level. Add to that an interesting plot and thoroughly relatable characters, and there is something for everyone.
Especially recommended for dystopia fans.