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The vast majority of my reading tends to be non-fiction, mostly connected with music, history and biography. But every now and then I like to read a novel in order to try something totally different. Browsing through the fiction shelves in our library at work a while ago, my curiosity was aroused by the blurb on the cover of this.
Published in 2005 and more recently filmed, 'Never Let Me Go' takes its title from a song by Judy Bridgewater, on a tape 'Songs After Dark', much-loved by the main character. (Before you go googling to find out more about her, Judy Bridgewater is a totally fictitious name.) The latter character is Kathy, one of three close friends who attended Hailsham School in the heart of Sussex, the others being Ruth and Tommy.
At the start of the book, Kathy is 31 years old, and has been a carer for eleven years. It is sometime in the 1990s, and she tells the story of how it was at their school. They seem to have been neither particularly happy or unhappy, but in a strange way placidly resigned to what is coming to them. Tommy is bullied by the others, so Kathy takes him under her wing and makes life more tolerable for him - but it is almost as if he would have coped adequately even if she had never appeared and taken on the role of his protector. For before long, we have the feeling that an air of menace hangs over them. The institution is not exactly a boarding school, nor an orphanage, but something vaguely in between. There are no teachers, but guardians, particularly the kindly but rather odd Miss Lucy and Madame. They have a rather bizarre relationship with their young charges, who are encouraged to produce art and poetry, but otherwise there seems to be a strange absence of teaching life skills. Four times a year there is an 'exchange' at school, a kind of bring-and-buy affair at which they 'sell' their work for tokens which they can use to 'buy' items brought into the school.
The menace, or at any rate mystery, deepens about a third of the way through, when Miss Lucy tells them one day after some hesitation that they are 'special'. They have to keep themselves well and very healthy inside. For example, they are not allowed to smoke. She did once but stopped, , and that for all of them , 'it's much, much worse to smoke than it ever was for me'.
By the way, Kathy does not work in a conventional care home for the sick or the elderly. Instead she looks after 'donors', who provide vital organs for others. After she has reminisced on these strange days at Hailsham, the story moves on to their early adult lives, when they have left and gone into the great outside world, but still remained in touch.
Not only have all three remained close, but there is a certain amount of physical relations between them. These sexual encounters are related in a curiously unerotic way, as if they are not merely 'doing it' with each other out of lust or passion, but more as they consider that they are only properly developed, 'useful' persons if they lose their virginity and it is something which they thus have a duty to do. In other words, the sex scenes probably won't shock your maiden great-aunt or the local vicar's wife. (In case you think I'm dealing with stereotypes, I do recall a local 'Mrs Rev' being recommended a perfectly anodyne aga-saga type of novel some years ago by my mother, but closing it in disgust after two of the characters indulged in a bit of tastefully-narrated bedroom business. And I did once have some maiden great-aunts).
This gets us to the stage where I find it difficult, almost impossible, to say more about the plot without giving everything away. I've said a little more about the story than the blurb on the back, but not much. On one level, it is a story of personal relationships, but involvement without love or even much happiness. On another, there is a faint whiff of science fiction in the style of John Wyndham, or even of George Orwell's '1984', with ordinary human beings finding themselves in an extraordinary situation, a terrible new world in which they have no control over their destinies yet do not seem particularly concerned.
I have to say I found the book ultimately rather disappointing. For me it started well, with the anticipation of something uniquely strange if not utterly horrible. The story trundles on, and while things do happen, it all seems to be narrated by Kathy in the same deadpan matter-of-fact style. It's a medium-length story, around 280pp in paperback, and I read through the end, waiting for the drama to come, but instead there seemed something curiously flat when I was expecting a gripping climax to the story.
There is no shortage of reviews elsewhere online (including this very site), with other readers divided down the middle. Some cannot speak of it highly enough, others have been equally dismissive. It is well written, but I found it difficult to feel much for any of the characters. For example Kathy is undoubtedly a kindly, likeable soul, yet I was left unable to feel any great sympathy for her. It was that kind of story.
I can only say in conclusion that it's not a bad book. It's certainly thought-provoking, I don't regret having read it, and I would recommend it to other people - with some reservations. But it never quite got into top gear for me.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
This book by Kazuo Ishiguro is based on a very unusual idea, which I can't really explain without spoiling it!
The story in a nutshell is about three children, Kathy, Ruth & Tommy, who grew up together in the same English boarding school, named Hailsham. It follows their childhoods & their friendships but most of all explores a dark side to their lives at the boarding school and beyond.
Their time at Hailsham was awash with secrets and rumours and it is not until they are older that the full picture about their destiny comes to light. The children are educated to a high degree, well cared for and encouraged to express themselves artistically. They have all the normal lessons a child would, sports classes, writing etc but they are very protected and are told that they are meant for something special. This special reason for their lifestyle and their very existence is hard to dream up, and this is where Ishiguro's imagination really flourishes.
The story is narrated throughout by Kathy, who is now 33 years old and is trying to come to terms with her childhood and her life as it is now. It is a saddening tale but one which is filled with love, friendship, and most of all hope.
I found this book to be a well thought out piece of writing, which really considers the emotions experienced by both the children and their teachers. It is a very unusual story, unlike anything I have come across before really but one of the best things about it is that although in theory it is a very far fetched idea, Ishiguro manages to put it across in a completely believeable way. It will make you feel a mixture of emotions and you'll probably find it hard to put down!!
I was strongly recommended this book by my good friend. He can't stop talking about it for two days. I am not even kidding. I was a little intrigued, none the less, to his reaction to this book. We have quite a lot in common when it comes to reading materials and music so I decide to give it a shot. He was really secretive on the plot. He said he doesn't want to spoil it for me. I have not seen him so animated for a book before, so I reckon it must be a very good book. And I quote his exact word, one of the best book he's ever read in his life.
Kazuo Ishiguro, in deed is a very good writer, who has very good imaginations. It just plays out all kinds of emotions in me when I was reading it. It is really scary to even imagine human are being clone for the reason written in his book. I mean, you read about it on the newspaper that labs are trying to clone body parts for transplant surgery but this book paints a whole new view on this idea. It makes you wonder about life itself. Innocence, acceptance and certain perspective that we fail to look into at times.
I would definitely recommend this book. It's sad and it questions a lot on humanity and values of our existence. My tears uncontrollably falls at the end of the story. I just can't help it. It is definitely worth reading. Prepare your box of Kleenex!
I bought this book so I could read it before the film came out, hearing how good it was supposed to be. I was not disappointed at the overall book, but do feel for the tragedy that this is and in this way, it is definitely a successful book.
~~~BOOK COVER DESIGN~~~
The cover of the book features a [young] girl in a turquoise dress in motion, supposedly dancing, and if you read the book, this image and its significance will dawn on you, making this an extremely relevant and heartbreaking cover. Every time you see it, you will think about the story and how it unfolds.
~~~THOUGHTS ON THE BOOK~~~
Split into three parts, this book follows the lives of three Hailsham students through the eyes of Kathy H, as she retells their life at Hailsham, their relationships in the Cottages, and the revelations of becoming a carer. The way this book is set out and the way it is told is also significant, in that Kathy specifically retells it like she retold one of her patients.
Hailsham students were special. They were made for a purpose and there was little or no way to avoid the fate that awaits them. After Hailsham, being a carer was almost inevitable, before they started "donating", but a rumour about deferrals started giving the three hope for a different future.
I am especially impressed with the way the book is written. There isn't a fluid progression from the events mentioned in this book, and they are captured almost in episodes. In this way, the memories of Kathy H are relayed just as she thinks of them, and having read the book, these memories almost become our memories.
At first, I was not at all happy with this. It was difficult to read and grasp what happens. What Kathy refers to on the first page may only be revealed a few pages later (after lots of setting and scene and rambling) or precursored in the first part, only to be explained in the next. I suppose again, this was almost how the students were taught at Hailsham, always aware but never told and they only find out at a later stage what all they learnt previously meant.
The ending was of course tragic, but the way everything unravels near the end, you were grasping to know the truth, which kept being delayed. There was almost a sense of rush throughout the book that you wanted to just read on to find out more... until you ran out of pages. This ending in a way could leave you unfulfilled and disappointed, but the way it did end fulfilled the purpose of the book. I shan't spoil it for you, but you will be flipping the pages when you reach the end, wanting more.
The book may not be the most exciting, but it intrigues you and grabs you from beginning to end. The obvious twist doesn't shock you as much as the sheer pace of the end, and how it just stops, making you want more and not getting it. A modern day tragedy. Now I can't wait to see the film starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.
Ishiguro's style is reminiscent of many Japanese authors, such as Haruki Murakami, where the 'normal' world is portrayed as this phantasmagorical construct in which time passes as a series of beautifully described memories and relationships are frail, whimsical bursts of emotion.
'Never Let Me Go' initially appears far more grounded than Ishiguro's other works, with a blunt, factual opening. The opening pace is idyllic, as he paints the setting of what appears to be normal boarding school life, told through the eyes of Kathy. The characters' traits are well-detailed, creating an immediately involving setting and making it very moving to watch their development throughout the novel, as Kathy reflects upon her childhood and adult life. The narrative style gives the book an immensely personal feel, like you are being told some great secret.
However, this is far from a normal bildungsroman. Even in the opening lines, there are subtle clues to the great mystery that lies behind the peaceful façade of the novel. The journey of Kathy, Tommy etc. on their discovery of this mystery forms the basis of the highly involving and engaging plot line that spans the book. It is particularly charming to watch how the children react to and discover this world of adult knowledge and how it shapes their emerging futures.
The plotline allows Ishiguro to explore a multitude of questions about morality, mortality and humanity. All of this is done with great literary skill and tenderness and makes the book a fantastically thought-provoking read. A large part of the enjoyment in this book stems from the journey as the reader, following the scraps of knowledge that Kathy and the others are given, seeing if you can guess the next twist and turn.
The pace may remain frustratingly slow for some, as it does often feel the story is going nowhere, until the avalanche of action in the last quarter of the book. However, I feel the relative calm in the opening sections really helps to amplify the horror of the later chapters. The contrasts between the tragedy and humour in the novel, the mundane and the political, give the book not only its complexity, but a sense that it is a factual story, making it all the more potent.
Overall, Ishiguro has created a powerful, emotional journey with 'Never Let Me Go.' The characters and setting all feel incredibly believable and it is definitely worth being patient with the slightly slow opening to discover what is truly happening in the book.
'Never Let Me Go' starts off very simply with the sentence, "My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer for over eleven years". The frankness of this first sentence sets the tone for the whole book; Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of Kathy- a carer who is coming to the end of her career, and looks back with nostalgia to her childhood and the friendships that have changed her life. Kathy's reminiscences are interspersed with snapshots of her everyday life, and we learn that she cares for very ill and dying people - people who she calls donors. The sadness and isolation of her present life is soothed by her memories. She remembers growing up in the country, in a beautiful old boarding school called Hailsham, where education, health and art are all encouraged. Her memories are all of her relationships - with other children and with her teachers, who she calls her guardians.
In this way, Ishiguro beckons the reader into his fictitious world. Lulled into a sense of false security and enjoying the interplay between the children, you suddenly realise that you have started to question the matter of fact statements about donors; that you are wondering why these children have no parents or family; and to start to ask what lies ahead for them, once they leave the security of Hailsham. It is common knowledge that this Booker shortlisted novel is about clones, and through Kathy, the possibly unreliable narrator, the author gradually reveals that this is no ordinary life story, but one set in a parallel universe, where any disease can be cured by harvesting organs from specially grown clones.
This book is no sci-fi shocker, but instead is a quiet and introspective examination of acceptance and despair. As Kathy tells us small stories of friendship, we understand that three of the Hailsham students have formed a very close bond. Tommy is a boy who stands out from the other students in two ways; he has no artistic ability, and he has an uncontrollable temper. Gentle Kathy often rescues him from the other students, who tend to bully him for his actions. Kathy also becomes close to Ruth, a manipulative girl who loves to be the centre of attention. Despite some very cruel treatment from Ruth, Kathy shows herself to be a staunch friend, and is repaid by loyalty and support. As these three characters grow up, the reader becomes more and more involved in their lives, and as the realisation of exactly what is happening to them is revealed, a growing sense of horror and outrage emerges. Caught up in the relationship between the three main protagonists, the background to their lives creeps up almost without the reader noticing.
This is an immensely subtle novel. It shocks without setting out to shock, it reveals truths gently, and engages the reader through little hints and clues. We see events through the eyes of the young Kathy. If, as a child, she does not question the way that she lives her life, we are not privy to any extra information, but have to believe what she believes. As questions start to enter her mind, we join her in her feelings of discomfort and worry. As an adult she can be equally naive and unquestioning, and we wonder at her lack of resentment, and end up feeling so much angrier on her behalf as a result.
Ishiguro traps the reader and draws us in like a spider in a web. He does not bombard us with his own morality, or try to justify the world that he has created. He leaves us all to make our own decisions but at the same time he forces us to question. He does not preach, but he manages to convert. By giving us a glimpse of the bleakness of his possible future, he instils fear and wonder in equal measure.
At first I wanted to race through this story, looking for rebellion, drama and an exciting denouement, but once I had accepted that the pace of the book was going to be slow, I found myself becoming incredibly involved with the characters. The desolation of the narrative overwhelmed me and I found that the whole time I was looking for affection - between the children, from the guardians - because love and affection is such a huge part of children's lives. Instead I found that the emotions of the characters were strangely flattened. Apart from Tommy, there were no teenage tantrums, no emotional couples falling out of love, and no sense of anger against the fate that awaited the students. I found this blind acceptance the saddest element of the book, and one that has stayed with me. Afterwards I found myself looking at our advances in science, and wondering where the human race's greedy demands for more would take us - designer babies, new organs grown from stem cells, the search for an answer to infertility, illness and death. This must have been Ishiguro's intention; as there is not enough detail about the outside world to make it convincing, the motivation must have been to stimulate a discourse on modern society.
This is a novel that I will remember for a long time. The skill with which Ishiguro bound me to the story of the three main characters was astonishing, and the questions that it brought up may never go away.
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan and became British citizen in 1982. He is renowned for writing novels that centre on memories, retold in the first person by a single narrator. He often focuses on loss as a theme, with a sense of deep sadness that can be seen running throughout his books. He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations, including winning the 1989 prize for his novel The Remains of the Day. Never Let Me Go is his sixth novel.
Published by Faber and Faber in 2005, 282 pages.
As other reviewers have noted the cover of this book envokes images of Africa and the Carribean thus emphasising never to judge a book by its cover. Set in an alternative contemporary England this book follows the lives of a few core students as they come to understand their purpose in society.
Touching upon modern medicine and hypothesising on the effect that designer babies may have on society. Through slowly developing the information for the reader, in the same way that these pupils would have slowly pieced the information together for themselves, the plot evolves delightfully and maintaining interest throughout. Narrated by a thirty one year old Kathy, the narrative contains a mature voice - older than her years.
Ultimately a love story and heartbreaker, Ishiguro developed a contemporary England which can be both empathised with and conversely one which cannot be understood.
Deffinately recommend this book to all readers.
Never Let Me Go was the first book I read Kazuo Ishiguro, and to be honest because I liked the look of his more resent book 'Nocturnes' but wanted to wait until it came out in paper back until I bought it. And so I tried this book out. I was pleasantly surprised. It's not often that I find an author whose writing style i like so much and I've already bought another of his books to add to my 'to read' pile. I really like to read novels by Japanese authors which is why i wanted to read one of Ishiguros books in the first place. However he is Japanese born British author, and i think his Britishness definitely comes through in this book. He also wrote The Remains of the Day, which was made into a film, and Never Let Me Go has also been turned into a film starring Keira Knightly, which is going to be released this year.
The story is told by Kathy H, a carer who is looking back at her life, starting at Hailsham, a boarding school where she and her friends grew up. Kathy and her friends live there full time. On top of their normal lessons they are encouraged to produce a lot of art, which the children earn tokens for which they can use to buy other peoples art periodically. A woman known only as Madame comes and takes the best pieces produced each time. They are also told about certain things in a way different than we would. They are forbidden from doing anything that would damage their bodies in any way, and encouraged to form healthy sexual relationships, which are not as important as other peoples as all the children know that they will be unable to have children. Without a home life to focus on the children depend on each other and form closer relationships than normal children might, and they are more intense about other things. Kathy remembers growing up with her friends and a lot of her life at Hailsham which didn't make sense to her, which she is now trying to sort out in her mind.
The second part of the book takes place in the cottages, a place where students go for a couple of years to write an essay and before they either start their caring career or 'donating'. There are already some students there from around the country and a group of friends from Hailsham, including Kathy's best friends Ruth and Tommy, who are in a relationship. This is the first time the students have been in the world outside Hailsham, so Kathy remembers how they adjusted and what new things they encountered.
Finally, Kathy talks about her life as a carer and how she finds Ruth and Tommy and is able to care for them as they give their last donations.
I know that from the summary of the plot that this seems like a pretty straight forward novel about a woman who is looking back on her life growing up in a place she was happy, how changes in her life were made and how she ended up as she is. It is that, but it's so so much more. There is always something you feel is wrong, you feel slightly uncomfortable with what is going on at all times but as things are revealed gradually it's always kind of frustrating that you can't put your finger on things and you want to know 'why?'. Saying that, it is satisfactory when something is revealed that tells you why things are they way they are. For example, the novel is pretty much based on the children growing up to become a carer and a donator, they think about this when growing up but understand it about as much as the reader does. Why do they have this specific career path, why do they seem so isolated? The book has a feel as though it is set in the future when England is slightly different from how we know it but then it is clearly set slightly in the past. I'm sure this all sounds a bit confusing, but it's a very straight forward novel with some fantastic twists you would never expect. It has been likened to Margret Atwood's 'The Handmaids Tale' and although the story is very different it does have that feel.
This is by far one of the best books I've ever read. I can't wait to read another of Ishiguro's other books, it's a real page turner and quite emotional. I can't think of anyone I wouldn't recommend this too. It's easy to read and simply written but fits in quite a complicated idea But be careful, there isn't a happy ending, it's not a feel good book, but don't let that put you off. I'll be looking forward to see how the film turns out!
This is another book that I got through readitswapit.co.uk (one reason that I love the site) so really had very little idea what to expect. I hadnt read any other books by Kazuo Ishiguro in the past but saw that he had won the Booker prize for a previous novel so figured it was worth a try.
What is the book about?
It is set in modern day England - but one that is both very similar to today's UK and very different. It is almost set in a paralell universe, one where genetic science and cloning techniques were perfected 40 - 50 years ago and in the novel the impact of this is felt.
The narrator and lead character is Cathy H, and she is 31 years old at the time of telling the story. Cathy looks back over her life while providing details of what is currently happening.
Cathy, and her friends Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham school - a boarding school for "special pupils" with a "special destiny" for their lives. Ruth and Tommy have recently returned to Cathy's life, forcing her to revisit the past and consider her future.
Without providing too much information about what happens in the book we soon learn that Cathy, Ruth and Tommy and all the other pupils are clones, created for the express purpose of being allowed to grow up and then used as "organ farms" for normal humans. Given that Cathy is 31 in the story this means that the technology must have been developed and the moral arguments been had in the 1960's or 1970s.
We learn immediately that Cathy works as a carer for clones helping them to recover after organ harvesting - before they have the final donation which will kill them.
As I mentioned don't want to ruin this story so no spoilers, but the story links the past and the present to try to explain some odd occasions in the lives of the clones. Why, for example are they sent to such an exclusive school as Hailsham, and why are they made to create art there when they will die at a young age?
What did I think?
I absolutely loved this book. It is very sad, as you can imagine - a story where we allow clones to grow up and then take their organs, eventually killing them is not the happiest of subjects.
What I liked was that the author manages to avoid all of the moral arguments that could cloud a book like this. He doesn't clog the story up with the rights and wrongs of cloning, organ donation or killing any kind of living being. The story is just set in a world where things are that way and the reader has to deal with it. This really allows you to have a think about some of these issues and consider where you would position yourself if it suddenly became an issue in real life!
The characters are very human, the emotions that they feel, both joy, excitement and fear are relayed to the reader. They don't ask for sympathy from the reader but will almost certainly get it!
The story moves around in time - sometimes going back to the past sometimes in the present as Cathy narrates. I normally find this a bit of a pain when reading a book but felt that it was appropriate in this case. Although I must say that I really didn't want to know how Cathy's story ends, as throughout the book you will think that it won't be very happy.
You are gripped and really want to solve the mysteries of hailsham, and its graduates, why were they special and what did all the strange traditions of the school mean?
Overall this book did make me cry in places and smile in others. I was gripped, very gently from the early pages and read this very quickly. In fact that was another unusual feature of this book - it is a really gentle story but grips you in the way that an exciting thriller might and if you are like me you won't be able to put this down.
Be prepared for asking yourself some difficult questions once you have read this and thinking about some difficult issues. But heh a book that makes you do that must be a good one!
If you have read / seen The Island or Spares - books that deal with similar ideas then I would definitely recommend this one.
Available from Amazon and all good book sellers RRP £6.99 but available cheaper in many places.
Not a happy holiday read but a challenging book which will get under your skin and leave you feeling strangely uncomfortable!
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I picked this book up at the Westfield Centre in Derby at the Book crossing shelf in Gloria Jean's cafe. I love looking through what others have put up for sharing while I enjoy my cup of coffee. This book attracted me because of its colour scheme of orange and green which I thought might be a book based in Africa but I was mistaken. The next thing that struck me was the mysterious title and the fact that it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005.
I had not heard of Kazuo Ishiguro prior to picking this book up but when I looked inside I discovered that he was the author of "Remains of the Day" which was a film I really found fascinating but I hadn't read the book. Ishiguro has written five novels prior to "Never Let Me Go" but this is the first of his books that I have read myself.
The novel starts by introducing us to Kathy who is the main character and the story is told through her voice and things are seen through her eyes throughout. We are informed by Kathy that she has been a carer for eleven years and that she is good at this work. She cares for donors who we assume are people who have donated organs to others. This is part one and it is set in the UK in the 1990s and this first part of the novel takes us back to Kathy's school days at Hailsham which appears to be a bit like a private boarding school initially.
We meet Kathy's friends and they appear to be cared for by guardians. These guardians seem caring but there is something a little odd about the relationship between the students and the guardians ; it is not quite that of parent and child nor is it teacher and student yet it is hard to put your finger on what is strange. The students appear quite content and go to lessons, play sport and enjoy music but something is not right. Partly it is the odd things the students have to take part in as part of their school experience like the Exchanges that take place four times a year. They have to contribute works of a creative nature such as poetry, painting or the like and these are 'sold' for exchange tokens which the students can then use to purchase items brought into the school from the outside world.
We gradually become aware that all is not what it seems, this is not a private boarding school nor is it an orphanage. These students are not normal or at least that is what is hinted. These students obviously have no experience of the outside world at all and they know only each other and their guardians. Some of the guardians say more than they should and the students try and work out what their role is and what their lives are all about.
The next part of the story follows Kathy and her friends going to the next stage of their lives in The Cottages where they are in the outside world and have to become more independent. They are able to drive and explore the world beyond Hailsham and their school days. They begin to form more adult relationships and this again is a little odd as they fall in love and have sex but is discussed in very matter of fact terms and very openly which feels unusual for someone reading the book , or at least it seemed unusual to me. It was almost like another bodily function rather than a normal caring relationship and they talked about being in love.
We are gradually finding that these students are not quite what we thought. I don't want to say too much more as I think this would spoil the book for someone wanting to read it themselves.
The third part of the story is Kathy's life as a carer and her relationship with her friends from school has changed as their lives have taken different courses.
I found this quite a disturbing book, a little like George Orwell's "1984". It is set in the English countryside and the characters move around different parts of England with a few specific places like Norfolk actually mentioned. It all seems so apparently normal on one level yet there is always this underlying tension.
Kathy tells the story is such a very innocent and childlike way accepting all that happens without question. When she falls in love it is rather like a teenage romance in its innocence but at another level they are so very sensible and selfless. I was quite moved by the relationships and how they were trapped by their situation.
The story is a simple straightforward story on one level but on another level it is a very chilling and disturbing story full of quite disturbing scientific possibilities. It is difficult to say more without giving away too much of the mystery that is cleverly maintained all the way through the story. We get fed titbits of mystery and there are some odd behaviours that we question but as fast as one thing is explained, the next question arises; there is always something we do not really understand .This mystery continues almost to the end of the book.
Once I had finished the book I lay and thought about it for ages, it is that sort of book. It makes you think about our world and the direction it is going.
I thoroughly recommend this book as a very different style of writing. It is very clever in its simplicity telling a story that is a caring story of love and friendship on one level but something much deeper and disturbing on another.
The book is a paperback published by Faber and Faber- ISBN: 057122413X and can be bought from Amazon and other high street book shops or do like I did and look out for it at a Book crossing site. Mine will be going on to my daughter in London.
This review may be posted on other sites under my name.
Never Let Me Go stands as one of the most thought-provoking fiction novels I have ever read and rates right up there with Michael Faber's Under The Skin for the feeling of unease it left me. Covering similar themes to those featured at the beginning of Michael Marshall Smith's Spares, the book is thinking man's science fiction that ultimately is not really science fiction. If that sounds like a contradiction it is simply because this is a book that is difficult to "slot" into any paticular genre; it is a book that is all about the essence of humanity, what it means to be human and the cruelty and coldness of mankind all wrapped up in what would traditionally be considered science-fiction territory and yet, the future this book portrays really isn't that far away from where we stand now in terms of cloning procedures and it's setting is described so matter~of~factly that this might as well be a social satire of our own society. And all this from the author who gave us Remains Of The Day...
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all residents at an elite and exclusive boarding school under the tutelage of very special guardians. Right from early on, they are made aware that they have an important purpose, a destiny that someday in the future each of them will fulfill. But this is not a glorious fate that they live in anticipation of, for Kathy and her fellow boarders are clones and, as they mature, it is their destiny to become organ donors for the higher classes of society who have the misfortune of becoming ill or injured and require transplants.
The story is told in retrospect and reminiscence by Kathy many years after being allowed to leave the school at which point she is put into a special kind of service whilst waiting for "her time". It is difficult to talk about this book without giving too much away so I do not want to talk about the plot and content too much and I would not want to spoil anyone's enjoyment, but, suffice to say, this is a very clever novel that works on many levels without at any time becoming too technical or involved. It addresses one possible future and events that might be put into practice if human cloning ever became socially acceptable but is as much about the thoughts and emotions of it's characters as it is about the ethical debates that inevitably arise with such a moral battlefield. Kazuo here demonstrates amazing literary skill and, though this is the only book of his I have read ~ and that because it was chosen by my bookgroup ~ it is obvious that here is a highly talented and accomplished writer who has managed successfully, with one short novel, to challenge the way in which we see the world.
Thought-provoking, emotional, challenging ~ these are good words that could be used to describe this book and, even if you are not sure if this is something you might not like. For one thing is for certain, you are unlikely to read a book this clever and engaging ever again in your life! And who knows, this could well be the shape of things to come in the next generation's future.....chew on that for a while!
Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go' is a book about loss; the loss of one's childhood, the loss of one's friends, one's innocence and, ultimately, the loss of one's aspirations and one's life. It is narrated by the main character, Kathy H. in a simple and conversational style. Kathy is a 'Carer'. Soon, she will become a 'Donor'. It is not until the final pages of the novel that the reader is made fully aware of the terrible nature of those roles.
'Never Let Me Go' is set in a parallel version of late 20th century England, an England remarkably similar to our own but which is also, in several important respects, shockingly different. As the story unfolds the reader slowly becomes aware of the extent of this disparity.
The bulk of the story takes place at a private school called 'Hailsham', where the young Kathy meets the people she will eventually form lifelong friendships with. The school is administered by teachers called 'Guardians' who seem to both idolise and fear their young charges.
To explain the reason for their apprehensiveness, as well as the full meaning of Kathy's role as a 'Carer', would be to ruin the book for prospective readers. Ishiguro is a master of naturalistic exposition and gradually reveals the secrets of his dystopian Britain in isolated snippets and casual asides throughout the entire book. This creates a mounting sense of unease culminating in horrified unbelief as all is finally revealed in the novels denouement.
The book is a rarity insofar as it stands up to repeated readings. Certain trivial events in the novel's early sections are imbued with a new significance once they are revisited with full knowledge of the novel in mind.
The characters are exceptionally well drawn and realistic, from the sober and pensive Kathy to the fiery Ruth and sweetly naive yet unstable Tommy.
All in all the book is a moving and tragic portrayal of loss in a familiar, yet simultaneously fractured and dysfunctional modern Britain. Highly recommended.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a wonderful writer and this, his latest novel, is in my view one of his best. Ishiguro cannot be called a prolific writer; Never Let Me Go is only his sixth novel since his first, A Pale View of Hills, was published in 1982. However, with work of this quality, you cant really complain about the long gaps.
Ishiguro is an interesting character; born in Nagasaki in 1954, he moved to Britain as a young child and was educated at a Surrey grammar school. Afterwards he worked as a grouse-beater at the Queen Mothers residence at Balmoral before taking up a place to study English and Philosophy at Kent University. He has worked as a social worker, but has been a full-time writer since 1982. While some of his novels have dealt with his Japanese heritage, others notably the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day have addressed very English concerns and characters.
Never Let Me Go, now available in paperback, is a compelling, deceptively simple tale narrated by Kathy H., who identifies herself at the very beginning as a 31-year-old carer. The nature of the care work Kathy does, however, does not become entirely clear until later. The time frame and place in which Kathy is writing is specified England, the late 1990s but it soon becomes apparent that the world she describes, while recognisably similar to our own, is also disturbingly different.
Much of the book concerns Kathys memories of her past, particularly her childhood at a place called Hailsham, a place which appears to be some kind of country-house style boarding school, where children are looked after and educated by teachers called guardians, who care for their day-to-day needs but seem to regard them with a mixture of fear and pity. Immediately there are intriguing questions for the reader to ponder: what is the real nature of the apparently near-idyllic environment of Hailsham, and why are the children there? Why do they seem to have so little contact with the outside world? Why is so much emphasis placed on creative work, and what is the Gallery for which the best work is selected? In the present day, who are the people Kathy cares for, and why does she seem so, almost inordinately, proud of her job, bedsit and car?
In its vision of an alternate reality, Never Let Me Go could, I suppose, be classified as science-fiction, but despite its subject matter, science is conspicuous by its absence. If forced to choose a classification, I would be more inclined to describe it as horror . although overt horror is also in short supply. It is also a mystery and a love story. Rather than provide explanation or comment, Ishiguros concern is to describe the world Kathy lives in through her own eyes. The reader sees it as she sees it; we learn only what Kathy herself knows (and chooses to tell). Like the young students at Hailsham, we are protected from the wider knowledge of the world and the details of their place in it, which is only gradually revealed as the novel progresses.
Some press reviews have revealed, in my view, too much about this aspect of the novel I think it is far better approached without that knowledge, and luckily for me I managed to avoid finding out too much before reading it. The gradual unfolding of the truth and the very mundanity with which it is told has a powerful effect on the reader, creating a dawning sense of horror as more is revealed. We are left with many questions upon which to ponder questions of ethics, science, emotional relationships and the very nature of what it means to be human.
The apparently simple nature of Ishiguros storytelling should not obscure the tremendous skill which has gone into this beautifully-crafted novel; there is much more to discover here than initially meets the eye. Ishiguro is, of course, a marvellous writer and his characterisation especially of Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy, but also of the more minor characters is masterly. The way in which sinister reality is conveyed through mundane, day-to-day narrative is devastatingly effective.
Never Let Me Go is ultimately a novel about humanity, about loss of innocence and the striving, against the odds, to form bonds of love and to find some degree of joy in existence. In its unflinching, if oblique, portrayal of the lives of the characters, it is terribly affecting and, at times, very distressing. Another novelist might have devised a plot in which characters rage and fight against their destiny; Ishiguros protagonists do not overtly do this. They all, even volatile Ruth and hot-tempered Tommy, ultimately accept their lives and the nature of their existence there seems no scope to do otherwise. The novel is beautifully crafted, and many earlier events can be seen, in the light of later knowledge, to have a powerful resonance and symbolism.
A novel which stays hauntingly in the mind, and which I will certainly be re-reading in the near future.
Faber & Faber, 276 pages. Cover price (for the paperback) £7.99 currently widely available for less.
This book is called "Never Let Me Go" and is written by Kazuo Ishiguro and was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize this year but was beaten by John Banville's "The Sea". Kazuo Ishiguro has written 5 other previous novels including "The Remains of the Day" and "When we were Orphans". I have not read any of his previous novels so can't comment on how this book compares to his previous works.
This book is not my usual choice of read. I usually prefer a much lighter, happier read, usually with a touch of romance and a happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after. My friend had read this book at her book group and lent it to me so I thought I would give it a try.
It's a story of three friends who are brought up in a boarding school called Hailsham somewhere in England, where they are looked after and taught by guardians. These guardians seem to care for their daily needs but there seems to be an absence of real love and care. A strong emphasis is put on their creativity through artwork and poetry and they feel protected and sheltered from the outside world. A world that they don't really know a lot about but they do seem aware from early on that they are different from other people out there.
I have read some reviews of this book and was slightly disappointed that they revealed one of the secrets of who the children in the school are. I believe that this is an important element in the book which isn't fully revealed until later on in the book and to reveal this I think spoils the mystery of the book. Yes elements of it are hinted, in the very first paragraph we learn that Kathy the central character is a carer to people who are donors. For me part of the enjoyment of the book was this compelling need to read on and understand what was going on. The author in his summary about the book does not reveal the secret and I think this is because just like the children in the book he wants you to piece together the clues and find out for yourself.
Although the novel has these complex issues it is very simply written. Starting in the 1990s it is a narrative told by Kathy a 31 year old woman looking back and reminiscing about her childhood and the boarding school where she grew up. The story jumps forwards and backwards as Kathy mentions a situation then goes back in time to explain what had happened before that for it to occur. We read about the friendships that grow especially between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. All through the novel we learn more about their childhoods and how their seemingly idyllic upbringing is turned on its head when they discover the truth.
We hear about "The Gallery" which is where their best paintings, drawings and poetry are taken and how the children feel that this is a great honour to have one of your creations picked to be displayed. We learn little by little about the donors and the carers and at first I was puzzled and didn't really understand what was going on. Then the more you read the more you discover and realise what was happening however it is not until the end (or maybe before if you're clever) that you understand what Hailsham was really about.
I found the book a slightly chilling tale but also a very compelling page-turning read. There are many aspects to it, on one level it's a story of childhood, of memories, friendships, growing up, and childhood innocence giving way to self-discovery. On another level there is the darker side with the secret behind who the children are, why they are at the school, what their futures are and all that it implies. I liked the fact that there is more than one way to read this book, you can just read it as a story of someones life or you can stop and think about the issues behind this book.
I have to admit that I probably wouldn't choose to read this book again but I am glad that I have read it. I think its good to try something new and read something you wouldn't normally read, stretch your imagination and broaden your horizons. It's a simple but well written book with a deeper sadder underlying story which stays in your mind long after you've finished reading it.
Book Info :-
Hardback - RRP £16.99
Published by Faber and Faber 2005
ISBN - 0-571-22411-3
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham - an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods - and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.