Posted in book reviews

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

It’s been several days since I finished this, and I have to say how thought provoking this novel is. As I said in my first/immediate review, this has such an interesting concept – and it lingers with you way after you’ve finished reading. This doesn’t change my overall opinion or rating of the book, as I still found it to be lacking in pace and falling flat at times, but I am growing a greater fondness and appreciation to the clever-writing style and structure of this novel.

I have mentioned that one of my issues with the book is that I was let down by the lack of exploration and ‘factual information’ surrounding cloning and the social and political climate within the novel (i.e. a lack of worldbuilding) but I think to explore that would take away from the emotional impact of Kathy as a first person narrator. We see what Kathy sees, we know what information Kathy knows. She is an unreliable narrator – willingly so, and unintentionally – and what this does is place us, the reader, her audience, in to her mind. We are complicit with her. We are empathetic, especially as Kathy addresses us straight on – challenging us, asking us, to engage in this conversation with her.

So while a lot of the puzzle pieces can seem to be missing [worldbuilding, more info on the lives of the clones in other facilities, etc] this works to build Kathy’s story, in letting the audience see the world as she does. To fill in those gaps, to fill in those silences, I feel would take away from Kathy’s story.

The euphemistic language in this is also brilliant, and wasn’t something I picked up on from the start – I only did in a later discussion. Words and roles like ‘guardians’, ‘carers’ and ‘donor’ are all misleading, to hide the hard, uncomfortable, painful truth. It is masking something horrendous with pretty language, manipulating the reader, and the characters – like Kathy – in to thinking this is okay, it isn’t as bad as it seems. Kathy thinks she cares for people; but really she is assisting them, aiding them, and is complicit with sending them to their deaths. Tommy and Ruth think they are donors, but that applies a sense of free will, that they are making this choice – but are they? Their sole purpose for existing is to have their organs harvested. And the guardians – this implies that they are caring. But are they nothing but prison wardens, or inspectors, ensuring that the product is good?

This use of euphemistic language, flowery words to cover up a brutal truth, demonstrates how easily Kathy, and the other characters, follow this path and are complicit in their own ‘completion’ – death. Their ‘destiny.’ It speaks to a wider topic of free will & agency. It speaks to resistance. The power of the media. And it is a dramatic irony, because we as readers feel an empathy – an anger, a frustration, a sadness – as we want the characters to *realise* that this is brutal and unfair and they should fight back. And just as you feel the characters get this sense – they go back to deluding themselves, convincing themselves otherwise…

They desperately try to convince themselves that they are human…
They have souls…
They are like everyone else.

But they are never given the tools, the opportunity.
Raised on half-truths. Words with a double meaning.
Never given a choice to do anything else, to survive outside their school, their cottages, their set roles…

And you begin to see and understand why these characters went along with this narrative they are told. It’s brutal and heart-breaking and you wish otherwise. You engage with the moral dilemma of cloning and organ harvesting…

And ultimately I think the question that it asks you to consider is,

What does it mean to be human?
Immediate review after finishing:
This was a decent read, with an interesting concept. While the subject matter was fascinating, I found that it focused too much on the speculative element surrounding the morality / philosophical ideologies surrounding cloning and scientific advancements. I was constantly yearning to hear more about the system surrounding the cloning, the rules, etc – I would’ve liked for it to have been more in-depth.

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