Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go is that rare book that eludes categorization. Is it literary fiction, or sci-fi? A thriller or a quiet rumination on the human condition? Is it a dystopian tragedy, or a coming-of-age love story? Astoundingly, the answer to all of these questions is simply “yes.”
It’s difficult to review the novel without giving away some of its more surprising plot points—discovering the world of Never Let Me Go is both its joy and its sorrow. (The film adaptation is premiering this Oscar season, so read the book before the movie hype spoils it for you.) I’ll reveal only as much as the first ten pages do: The novel is narrated by Kathy H., who works as a “carer,” in England, in the 1990s. She and her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy, grew up and were students together at Hailsham. Kathy H. has had a chance to reconnect with her friends after many years apart, since they were both “donors” she “cared” for. Hailsham, which seems very much like a boarding school, was much better than any of the other places. We see the “guardians” there are interested in art and creativity—the students take classes in drawing, poetry, music appreciation …and little else. One “donor” shudders when Kathy asks where he went, however, “he wanted… not just to hear about Hailsham, but to remember Hailsham, just like it was his own childhood.” Indeed, Kathy’s observant yet naïve reminiscences allow it to become our memories as well (though we learn in Chapter One that she’s not exactly sure where Hailsham is.)
My recommendation for the book is also my history with it: I read it four years ago, and every once in a while I’d think, “That was so good, I should really read it again.” In May, I did, and it haunted me for three months. The story is structured so that it becomes more tragic on rereading; moments hidden throughout the first hundred pages take on devastating weight. I thought about the characters every day this summer, if only for a moment. Certain sentences, especially toward the end, had pressed into me like bruises—when I remembered them, I winced a little. Ishiguro’s masterful storytelling kept calling me back to Hailsham, until the last week of August, when I finally returned for a third time.
I understand I may need to move on, to discover new worlds created by other great authors. But it’ll be a long time before this novel gets ousted from my Top 5. I can’t promise you’ll find the home at Hailsham that I did. At the very least, you’ll encounter an exquisitely crafted work of fiction. As for me, I doubt Never Let Me Go will ever really let me go.
Reviewed By Luke Sirinides