All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

on January 20, 2012

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
Faber and Faber Ltd
2005, 263p
Read from my local library

Kath spent her entire childhood at a place known as Hailsham, which was a sprawling establishment deep in the English countryside. Boarding there, her life revolved around her friendship groups and her lessons in creativity. At Hailsham, they were taught to appreciate the creative and encouraged to produce works of art and poetry. They were cosseted, sheltered, protected and shaped for one thing.

Kath is approaching the end of her time as such and she’s reminiscing now, reliving those days at Hailsham which form some of the most important times and memories of her life. After all it was Hailsham’s job to shape her very existence and for her and her tight group of friends, everything they learned there prepared them. They were always accepting of their role and the vague way that they were gently steered towards it.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. As they got older, the questions grew and together they tried to stumble through and find the answers. Kath, Ruth and Tommy all had theories on why things were the way they were but in terms of solid answers, they were few and far between. And when the answers come, it’s too late.

Never Let Me Go is a hard book to describe. It’s taken me two days just to write that above summary which is only 200 words because I was trying not to give anything away. I went into it not really knowing anything about it other than a few whispered things about dystopia and the fact that there’s a movie out of it and the author has won lots of prizes for his novels. I think this worked pretty well because the information is dealt out slowly as you are drawn deeper and deeper into the story. I expected to love it. I’ve heard so many people sing its praises. But ultimately, I didn’t love it. I am not entirely sure I even liked it as such. But I am glad I read it.

The novel is narrated by Kathy, who grew up in what is like a boarding school sort of facility. Some years later, Kathy is reminiscing about those childhood and teen years but the narrative isn’t in any way linear. It jumps back and forth, sometimes more than once within the one memory Kathy is reliving. It can be a little rambling and frustrating and sometimes I forgot what point she was making until it was reiterated after a little tangent. It was sort of like listening to my mother tell a story. She doesn’t just tell you about going somewhere, she’ll tell you about getting in the car, about what she was wearing, about what the weather was like, what was on the radio. Who she might have driven past, what roads she might’ve taken. And one of those details will remind her of something else until she forgets what the original story is and I really have no idea what she’s on about. Kazuo Ishiguro is, of course, more skilful than my mother at telling stories so he’s always able to bring it back and every tangent has a point but still, at times it felt like I was just reading something that was going no where!

When I first sat down to write this review and it wasn’t working, I was talking to Megan on Twitter. She’s read it and before I knew it, we had launched into a discussion (part rant on her side!) about how we felt let down by the ending. She mentioned how the ending made the whole journey seem pointless to her and it’s not something I disagree with. Unlike her, I was also let down that the whole reason the children were at Hailsham wasn’t explored more. Although answers do come to Kathy and her friend Tom towards the end of the book, there wasn’t as enough information as I would’ve liked, particularly surrounding the process that the children had been raised for their entire lives. I wanted to know more and I felt the severity of their sacrifice deserved more. Instead the process is treated very distantly and there’s not too much information given on the particulars and I really would’ve liked to know more. But then again, I always want to know more!

Despite the rambling and non-linear narrative, there’s something very compelling about it. Even when the book wasn’t clicking with me I struggled to put it down and go and do something else because I wanted to know what happened. Kathy, although not always likable in the way she was so overly sure she was right about every memory and everyone else was wrong, made for a thorough and detailed narrator and you felt like you were getting all that she knew. The picture she painted was all she had to use and she hid nothing. At times it was just like I was reading a book about kids at boarding school, even though you knew it was something more sinister than that. Sometimes she was so childishly innocent, even as an adult looking back on these events that occurred while they were being groomed for their role in life, that you wondered how she did what she did. The role that she took on after Hailsham and held for 12 years was a grueling one, not something for the faint-hearted. Also, I’d have liked to know more about those years, but that’s tied up in wanting to know more about the process they went through too. So I feel like I just went around in circles, being interested, wanting to know more, not being told more and then feeling let down!

This book had a somewhat weird effect on me. Even though I wouldn’t gush over it and say I loved it, I’d recommend it to people as a talking point, a novel of interest. I want to see the movie (I don’t often watch movies, hardly ever actually and never before reading the book if they’re based on one) and I want to read more of Kazuo Ishiguro’s work.

Hard to rate, probably a 6 or 7/10

Book #7 of 2012

5 responses to “Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. Marg says:

    I read this for a book club a few years ago and it was the best discussion we had. Like you, I didn’t love it, but five or six years later there are still elements of the story that are with me!

    • I think it would be an amazing choice for book club. Love it, hate it or indifferent to it, it would raise so many points of discussion! I wish I’d read it for something like that.

  2. I listened to an audio book version of this, narrated by the actress Emilia Fox and it was fantastic. That odd, unsettled feeling transates perfectly in an audio form. If you visit it again in the future, I’d recommend the audio book. I loved it!

  3. Cally Jackson says:

    Great review. My thoughts about this book were similar to yours – I found it both frustrating and compelling. It’s definitely stayed with me. I haven’t seen the movie but I’d like to.

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