Book Review: Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro


Do you have to doubt your intelligence, if the name of the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize in literature doesn‘t ring a bell and his works have never been on your reading list? I did. The English novelist of Japanese origin Kazuo Ishiguro has already won the Man Booker Prize in 1989 for his novel The Remains of the Day, however, I was too young then to take a note. Hence his Nobel Prize in literature last year made me fill in the gap and dig deeper into his works.

To be honest, the first encounter with Ishiguro in a shape of The Remains of the Day hasn‘t been a long-lasting one. Perhaps it wasn‘t the right moment and I put the book aside. This is when I switched to Never Let Me Go and got carried away by a touching hopeless story told by the main character Kathy.

At first it was difficult to grasp what Kathy was talking about. She uses the terms „carers“and „donors“but you are allowed to perceive their real meaning only by gradually hearing her memories from her childhood and early adulthood. Though the mentionings, such as „He‘d just come through his third donation, it hadn‘t gone well, and he must have known he wasn‘t going to make it“, in the very beginning of the story hint instantaneously towards some sinister development.

And indeed Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel about Britain in 1990s where clones are raised and used as organ donors. Kathy herself is a clone and well-aware of her fate. However, told from the clone‘s perspective, the novel does not imply any rebel thoughts or ethic issues. It is just full of ungrounded hope to stay longer with the loved ones, as the myth of deferral for true lovers constitutes the only exception.

How do you raise children who are destined to give themselves piece by piece to others, in most cases not succeeding to reach their early thirties? Hailsham House is a special place, like a 19th century boarding school where clone children are supervised by the guardians, taught in all classic disciplines, encouraged to go in for sports and arts, with only a vague disclosure of their true purpose. This is where Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy spend their early days and experience a certain love triangle. It perfectly reminds of a rather happy orphan childhood. However, Kathy‘s story betrays that not all clone upbringing places are so amicable and cozy as Hailsham: „I asked where he‘d grown up, he mentioned some place in Dorset and his face beneath the blotches went into completely new kind of grimace. And I realized then how desperately he didn‘t want reminded.” Sadly, eventually, such places take over: why bother with education when all is needed is healthy kidneys or hearts.

It‘s intriguing why Ishiguro has chosen to tell the story in a feminine voice. Or perhaps as long as Kathy is a clone, gender doesn‘t matter, it has no true human approach? Though Tommy suffers from anger attacks and bad temper, Ruth is a snobbish plotter and Kathy is always concerned about the others trying to never let them go. They do have souls but it‘s difficult for people to make believe in it: „We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.”

And still none of Hailsham students, Kathy included, has any desire to change the world. Despite their character peculiarities, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are humble and obedient towards their final purpose. The story misses a lot of details for a curious or rational reader. Probably Ishiguro plots it that way to picture the world as seen by clones and their ignorance in terms of the social reality. This inner reconciliation is worse than a sense of hopelessness. But only for us who follow this startling plot. Meanwhile Kathy who loses everyone she loved submissively carries on: „…and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn‘t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be. “

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