Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5 Stars

There is something beautiful about this book and for that I commend Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go transcends genres in that it has notes of science fiction, mystery, suspense, romance, coming-of-age, politics and religion. I've never read anything quite like it.

Ishiguro tells his story through the eyes of Kathy, a woman who calls herself a carer and her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. We learn of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy's idyllic childhood at a boarding school called Hailsham, then their lives at The Cottages and finally the centers. From the start, there's something different about these children and their lives, something vaguely foreboding, but Ishiguro is in no hurry to tell us as he creates his world bit by bit.

Ishiguro is a master at dolling out information judiciously, which is what makes this novel a suspenseful pageturner without any of the tropes of a bestselling thriller. We first hear about donors, carers, centers and completing in a casual way as they are just part of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy's life. As the true nature of these terms comes to light and as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy leave the sheltered confines of Hailsham and The Cottages for the real world, the darker aspects of their existence push to the forefront and the reader finally has their suspicions confirmed.

To be honest, I can't decide what Never Let Me Go is trying to say. Is it a commentary on the advancement of science and technology at the expense of humanity? Is it trying to ascertain whether there's a difference between life and the soul? Is it pushing or dismissing the idea that life is pointless? Perhaps it's a warning of how easily human beings can be indoctrinated to just accept what they're told without question. This is certainly what stuck in my mind the most as I came upon the end and Kathy and Tommy went to see Madame about a deferral. Obviously, these students understood their fate enough to wish for a way out, so why didn't anybody ever try to run?

Maybe that's the story of someone else, someone who didn't go to Hailsham.

Maybe Never Let Me Go is none of the above and at its core is a creative attempt to prove that regardless of ones origin and environment, we're all connected by the same flaws and weaknesses and that - to quote The Beatles - love is all we need.

As I said, I don't know and I've come to the conclusion I don't need to pick just one message. Never Let Me Go made me think about a lot of things and that's what I'm going to focus on. It has made me want to read other books by Kazou Ishiguro.

A few things of technical note - I wasn't a huge fan of Ishiguro's dialogue. I appreciate the fact that I'm American and he's English, but even so, there were many times when I felt the conversations were odd or stilted because of the dialogue. There were also times I found myself somewhat distracted by the very distinctive way he wrote Kathy. It's very much a stream of consciousness and while I was never confused, I occasionally had a moment of annoyance over the lack of proper grammar. Don't let that stop you from reading it, though. It never made me consider abandoning the book.

As I reached the end, arriving at the only conclusion that would serve the book, I expected to feel sad or angry at the fates of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, but I didn't. As I said, there's something beautiful in this book, despite the unfairness and in some ways horrifically amoral circumstances. Rather than focusing on what she would never have, Kathy did what so many of us can't and focused on the beauty she'd been lucky enough to experience.

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