Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
In one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises 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.
My overall impression of the book is fatalistic. It’s beautiful, haunted, tinged with the unquestioning acceptance of fate; sad and nostalgic while still somehow evoking an ideal childhood, a weave of friendships and memories and loves that pervades Kathy’s life even into her adulthood. But every character accepts the world as it is; there are only vague dreams of change, never a desire or a drive to actually make a difference.
The first section is placed at Halisham, a boarding school; the children have lessons, create art, compete with each other and learn and grow. They always know there’s something different about them, something odd – it’s not important, but they know their lives are set and their futures set onto a certain path, even if they don’t entirely understand what the path is. The story is tinged with the children’s inventive plots and dreams as they try to make sense of the hints they’re given. The second section is after school, when the teenagers move away to the Cottages; allowed more freedom, they talk and have sex and wait for their lives to begin. They try to find out a little more about their paths and their backgrounds, but…it’s still not important. It’s a dream, an adolescent fantasy, and by the time they step onto their paths they accept the course taken. And the final section is Kathy as an adult, a carer looking after her classmates and peers, waiting for her own turn. She travels, spending long hours thinking over the past and turning her memories into dreams.
Ishiguro’s writing style is incredibly readable; I was turning the pages almost effortlessly. The story flows very well and even though events jump back and forth, there’s no sense of confusion – everything fits and works within the overall frame. There’s some beautiful language and phrasing, and Ishiguro effortlessly evokes the idyllic nature of growing up fading into a horrifying reality.
While I love the book, when I think back over it, the fatalistic nature of the characters annoys me. None of them try to fight. None of them try to leave. They accept the boundaries and even when they try to break out, it’s still within the confines they’ve been given. I don’t know if I missed some vital part of the background that sets their place within the society they live, or if it’s just the way the characters have been set. I don’t necessarily want a Katniss-style revolt, but…some flash of something from someone would have made it a little more realistic for me.
So – beautiful, haunting, dystopian and readable. Definitely worth at least one read.
This was part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge.