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I finished another of Kazuo Ishiguro’s magical works and I had to write a review while the book was still fresh in my mind. Particularly a book such as “Never Let Me Go.” There are very few books that have left me disturbed and this is one of them. A summary:
Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatizes her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.
Love and friendship are the two major themes that run through the book from the start. The story revolves around three students at Hailsham boarding school – Ruth, Tommy and Kathy. The book is divided into three sections, which are the stages of life – childhood, teen years and adulthood. We are introduced to the lives of the kids at Hailsham, their worries, aspirations and relationships, particularly through the evolving lives of these three characters.
However, it’s evident from page one that this is not a normal story about normal kids who are in a normal school. While I chuckled my way through The Remains of the Day, the first work of Ishiguro’s that I read, this was not the case with Never Let Me Go. A grey, bleak atmosphere hangs heavy right from the beginning and from page one I got the feeling that I was privy to the workings of a cult. I was introduced to “carers” and “donors” and “guardians.”
My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years…My donors have always tended to do much better than expected. Their recovery times have been impressive, and hardly any of them have been classified as ‘agitated’, even before fourth donation.
This is page one of the book and already I could see a lot of anomalies. The lack of a surname, the use of exclusive labels like ‘carers’ and the implication of something unpleasant with the words ‘fourth donation.’ As the book progresses I learnt about the mysterious Madame and her Gallery, the Spring Exchange, the big Sale and the Cottages. Another unsettling factor is that although the majority of the story is set in a school, there is no mention of parents, family or siblings anywhere. It’s as if these people exist in a vacuum, isolated from the outside world.
Little did I know how close to the truth (of the story) I was. Until the last few pages of the book, I thought the book was a bit off the curve, eccentric and complex in its portrayal of a world that I could not identify with and yet populated with seemingly average human beings. At times the book moves slowly, and at certain points I could not even wrap my head around things. There is an undercurrent beneath the coming of age portrayal with romance, friendship, discovery of sex et al, which you are aware of but you cannot put your finger on.
But in the end, things fall into place. That is when your jaw drops and you feel an intense sadness and all the innocence portrayed in the previous pages becomes even more heartrending. If I continue I will have to reveal the twisted conclusion. So I will stop here. All I can say is, Ishiguro is brilliant in his construction of a parallel world, holding a mirror to what the future might be, where humans play with humans without a thought, in the name of saving lives. He reveals the possibility of unending paradoxes and shines light into a dark, dystopian tomorrow, which speaks very much of today. Slow but getting there. Just like the book.
Verdict: Brilliant. Depressing. Otherworldly