Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Instead of compiling all the books I've been reading for one long monthly review, I've decided to single out one of them for the last post of the month. This will enable me to go into detail, without it being too long. I just don't have the time to write up lengthy reviews of everything I've read - however much I would like to. This month I chose...


As a child, Kathy - now thirty-one years old - lived in Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of her memory.

And so, her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen in to love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed - even comforted - by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham's nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood - and about their lives now - Goodreads

You could say I had high expectations going in.

I remember watching the 2010 adaption of Never Let Me Go for the first time. We had not long moved into our house and I had a rare day off. The fiance was in work, so I decided to watch one of the many films on my TiVo box, that I had been saving for some "me time". The top of the list was this film, so on it went. For the entire run time I literally couldn't move, I barely breathed. It was one of those films that was so utterly heart wrenching, so soul destroying, that I still can't bring myself to watch it again. This film stayed with me and even now, 6 years later, I can recall it with the utmost clarity. Just thinking about specific scenes is painful enough.

But anyway, on to the actual book.

It all starts with Kathy's version of events at Hailsham. It is very quickly established that this boarding school is unlike any other and that the students are also unlike other children. There is a closeness and yet disconnect between the kids and their guardians (who are essentially teachers, in lieu of parents), they are taught that they must take care of their bodies and look after each other above all else and there is a strange emphasis on creating art, which is shared between the students in events called Exchanges. Throughout her time there, its clear that Kathy and Ruth have a relationship built on that fine line between friend and enemy. There are moments when they are close, but long stretches where its clear there is a divider between them in the shape of Tommy; who is "coupled" with Ruth, but whom Kathy has a crush on.

The real ones to watch at Hailsham were the guardians and the mysterious Madame, who collects their artwork for a gallery no one is allowed to discuss, and has never been seen. Miss Lucy specifically is heartbreaking as her knowledge of the children's future clearly haunts her. She can't stand to hear them talk about their lives beyond Hailsham because she knows the things they want cannot be. It's obvious fairly on that the children are aware of some aspects of their lives after Hailsham. The children know they are to give "donations" but what they are donating and the reason for it is kept close to the chest. They are told that once they finish school at 16, they will move on to a place for further education and in Kathy, Ruth and Tommy's case, this is The Cottages. 

There, they will study and write essays that are of no particular importance but give their days structure and meaning until they move on - learning to drive and becoming carers, or beginning their donations. Its once they get to the cottages that Kathy and Ruth's relationship begins to disintegrate. Unhappy and filled with anguish, Kathy cannot tolerate Ruth's obsession with fitting in with "veterans". She isolates herself to a degree and finds reasons to be annoyed with her friend. Ruth however, is simply lost and unsure of how her life will progress, wanting to take control of it in the smallest of ways: for example, hitting Tommy on the elbow to signal she is leaving the room is a way to distance herself from the girl she was. Kathy is in limbo also, unsure of who she is and where she fits in with this new crowd and new life beyond the walls of Hailsham. Eventually they all go their own ways, which leads to the last part of the book.

Now in her thirties, Kathy is a carer. She spends her life travelling from one end of the country to look after her peers during their donations. She also reconnects with Ruth and Tommy. I won't discuss any more of the actual plot as it will ruin a lot of things for those who haven't read it.

At first, Ishiguro's writing style seems a bit contrived but, it makes sense in terms of Kathy's stream of consciousness. You don't think logically and thoughts interrupt each other, so it get it. I liked the way it flit from one memory to the next with little interlude, but everything links up in the end. The book is divided into three sections for three different parts of their lives and it encapsulates the innocence of childhood, the uncertainty of adolescence and the disappointment of adulthood.

Yes I am aware that's jaded, but tell me I'm wrong.

The problem for me was I just didn't care about the characters. Kathy, in part 3, came across as cold and unfeeling. Tommy seemed like a pliable toy, who needed someone to tell him what to do. Ruth was the only one that I understood. She was just trying to hold on to something that would never be. It was sad. But otherwise, there was no real tension and the ending was dull. Which I didn't think I would say about what is essentially dystopian fiction. It was boring.

Maybe it's just because I've seen the film, but the "twist" was very obvious from more or less the beginning. It was drawn out and there was no build up. It was almost as if the characters didn't care either, because none of them attempt to avert their fate in any way. It was as if they thought it was their only reason for living. Which is incredibly heartbreaking but not enough for me to care.

To summarise: it's well written, has an interesting story and theory but the last part ruined what was an incredible book.

Rating: 3.5/5

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