Book review: Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go has been waiting on my bookshelf for several weeks now, tempting me with its peachy covers and smooth interior. So as soon as I finished my second out of three exams yesterday, I picked it up with glee and buried my nose in it on the long train journey back from Footscray to Glen Waverley.

This book has been marketed as a science fiction, a troubling portrayal of a dystopian 20th century…but that doesn’t really capture the essence of Never Let Me Go. It’s not about cyber-men and decaying urban sprawl. Yes, it’s set in an alternate 20th century where medical technology has progressed to such an advanced stage that the lines of humanity and ethics begin to blur. However, the science is far from the focus of Ishiguro’s story.

Ishiguro describes the lives of his main characters with such detail and clarity that as the reader, you can’t help but to be drawn close as though to a real person. You can’t help but be reminded of your own childhood: the blinkered way in which you learn about the world; the hints of meaning and snatches of adult conversation that always seem to elude you.

The narrator is 31 year old Kathy H., who, nearing the end of her short life, reflects on her seemingly idyllic childhood at the Hailsham boarding house, and the events that followed. The whole story is told in a very conversational style. Kathy’s mind drifts from memory to memory, each scene linking with the next, not necessarily in chronological order. At first I found this device effective as it added to the dreamy, highly personal narrative, but further into the book I was mildly frustrated by the lack of structure and conclusion. This is of course only a pet peeve, and I do not think it really detracts from the book overall–in fact, others would surely argue it adds to the atmosphere.

Kathy’s character is thoughtful and thorough. However, as the reader you are aware that you are seeing this troubling world through blinkered eyes. Her vocabulary is limited to the point of simplistic. The characters’ simple and passive reactions to complex and upsetting circumstances only heightens the feeling of unease. The point of the story, I think is that the characters never learn to rebel against their fates. They accept the system, not because of stupidity or laziness, but because their minds cannot conceive of the world being otherwise. This is, ultimately, a poignant tale, and an enjoyable read.

Verdict: 8/10

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