Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go is a 2005 dystopian science fiction novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (an award Ishiguro had previously won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day), for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. Time magazine named it the best novel of 2005 and included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. It also received an ALA Alex Award in 2006. A film adaptation directed by Mark Romanek was released in 2010; a Japanese television drama aired in 2016.
Never Let Me Go From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.
All children should believe they are special. But the students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny. Kazuo Ishiguro’s sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, is a masterpiece of indirection. Like the students of Hailsham, readers are “told but not told” what is going on and should be allowed to discover the secrets of Hailsham and the truth about these children on their own.
Offsetting the bizarreness of these revelations is the placid, measured voice of the narrator, Kathy H., a 31-year-old Hailsham alumna who, at the close of the 1990s, is consciously ending one phase of her life and beginning another. She is in a reflective mood, and recounts not only her childhood memories, but her quest in adulthood to find out more about Hailsham and the idealistic women who ran it. Although often poignant, Kathy’s matter-of-fact narration blunts the sharper emotional effects you might expect in a novel that deals with illness, self-sacrifice, and the severe restriction of personal freedoms. As in Ishiguro’s best-known work, The Remains of the Day, only after closing the book do you absorb the magnitude of what his characters endure. –Regina Marler –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–The elegance of Ishiguro’s prose and the pitch-perfect voice of his narrator conspire to usher readers convincingly into the remembered world of Hailsham, a British boarding school for special students. The reminiscence is told from the point of view of Kathy H., now 31, whose evocation of the sheltered estate’s sunlit rolling hills, guardians, dormitories, and sports pavilions is imbued with undercurrents of muted tension and foreboding that presage a darker reality. As an adult, Kathy re-engages in lapsed friendships with classmates Ruth and Tommy, examining the details of their shared youth and revisiting with growing awareness the clues and anecdotal evidence apparent to them even as youngsters that they were different from everyone outside. […] Ishiguro conveys with exquisite sensitivity the emotional texture of the threesome’s relationship, their bonds of personal loyalty that overcome fractures of trust, the palpable boundaries of hope, and the human capacity for forgiveness. Highly recommended for literary merit and as an exceptional platform for the discussion of a controversial topic.–Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Review By Debbie Lee Wesselmann – TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE
Set in the 1990’s, Kazuo Ishiguro’s quietly disturbing novel aims to make us question the ethics of science even though the author never directly raises the topic. The narrator of Never Let Me Go is Kathy H., a woman who introduces herself as a “carer” mere months away from becoming a “donor,” as though we should know what these terms mean. This nearness to ending one stage of her life to entering another causes her to reminisce about Hailsham, the school in the English countryside where she grew up with her two closest friends, Tommy D. and Ruth. The three form an unlikely trio: Ruth is headstrong and imaginative; Tommy has an uncontrollable temper; and Kathy is steady and observant in the subtleties of human behavior. It is this last quality belonging to Kathy H. that sets the tone of the novel. Everything is precisely told in an even, matter-of-fact voice that never questions the strange terminology and conversations that alert the reader to something more grave lurking under what seems, on the surface, to be an ordinary story about three childhood friends. As the three grow up, they begin to face moments more important than the minor disagreements of childhood.
Ishiguro’s richly textured description of the relationship among the three supplies all the details without confronting the larger issues. As Kathy tells us, the guardians at Hailsham both tell and not tell the students the truth about Hailsham and their lives–exactly what Ishiguro does to the reader. The truth is doled out in increments, over the course of the entire novel, requiring the reader to understand what is implied as much as what is told. The frightening side to all this is that the characters never question the course of their lives. No one runs, or questions why they are the ones to make the ultimate sacrifice. One of the most poignant moments comes near the end when Kathy says, “Why should we not have souls?” By this point, it has been apparent to the reader that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are human in every sense of the word, with talents and intelligence and foibles and complex emotions, and yet are regarded as both freaks and disposables by the “normals.” For the reader, these characters are anything but expendable.
Ishiguro’s literary style of examining small moments might disappoint readers who expect a strong plot. Although the premise may belong to science fiction, this novel is more concerned with characterization and theme. If you like writers in the tradition of Ian McEwan, Marilynne Robinson, Chang-Rae Lee, and Margaret Atwood (whose The Handmaid’s Tale creates a different dystopia), you’ll be immediately swept into this alternate world where the past is also the future.
About the Author
Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including the international bestsellers The Remains of the Day (winner of the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go. He received an OBE for service to literature and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.