Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Knopf, 288 pages
As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.
There are books that grab you by the collar from the very start and force you to pay attention to what you are reading. These books are typically the explosive, action-packed ones, ones that plunge you right into the action, leaving you breathless from the start all the way up to the last page. However, there are books that start off quiet, with barely a bang. You’re not quite sure what would happen with these books, but you allow yourself to be carried gently with the languid flow of the story. You think it wouldn’t really grip you so much as those action-packed books that you can put it down every now and then, reading at your own pace.
And then it proves you wrong. Somewhere in the story, the book grabs you by the hand and pulls you in, refusing to let go unless you get to the very last page, and you’re left even more breathless, wondering what just happened in the past pages and chapters.
That, my friends, is the kind of book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is.
I’ve been seeing this book for a long time now, but I never thought of picking it up because I often confuse it with other books written by Japanese authors that I am not sure if I want to read. Even my friends reading it in my book club didn’t make me read it because by then, I was more into reading YA books, and I never thought it would be something I’d like to read, anyway. When I ran across its ebook on sale on Kindle, I finally surrendered and purchased it. If my other friends liked it, I probably would, too, right?
Never Let Me Go tells the story of friends Kathy H, Tommy D and Ruth, who all met and grew up in Hailsham, a private boarding school somewhere in England. Kathy, now 31 years old, narrates her memories of her life as a child and early teen there, the next years as she, Tommy and Ruth moved to the Cottages after their time in Hailsham and finally her years as a carer where she crosses paths with Tommy and Ruth again. The book is really a collection of Kathy’s memories, told almost out of chronological order but in a way of significance, all leading to the readers wondering who Kathy is, why there were in Hailsham and what they are up to in present time.
To say anything more would be a spoiler, so I will leave you at that. I was partially spoiled already as I read the book because of some reviews that I read even if it was clearly marked with a spoiler. However, that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of reading this wonderful piece of work. As I mentioned above, Never Let Me Go is a book that starts off very quiet, with hardly any bang. In fact, there isn’t really much excitement in the book, yet I never found it boring. Kathy’s voice rang clear all throughout the book. It almost felt like I was sitting with her in a shop and she was just telling me her life story, or perhaps I was sitting at the passenger seat of her car as she regaled to me their little misadventures in Hailsham.
Even if it was told in Kathy’s point of view, the other characters’ voices were distinct, too. Kathy tells her stories about her friends with little bias to herself, which allows us to see and forgive them for their own faults towards the heroine. For example, every time I would feel annoyed at Ruth for being so dominating, Kathy would say something to make me understand her in a way, or would convince me that somehow Kathy was also at fault. Perhaps it was written that way because these are Kathy’s recollections and at her age, she definitely knew better than she knew then. Tommy and Ruth felt as real as Kathy was, and I truly felt their importance in Kathy’s life.
The strength of the characters didn’t really water down the plot, so there is still much satisfaction as the secrets behind their existence and Hailsham were revealed. As these are Kathy’s memories, they tend to jump from one scene to another before going back to the original intent. It may take a bit to get used to that kind of narration and it may turn some people off. However, that is almost the same way as some Sarah Dessen novels are, so I’m fairly used to that. Everything is revealed gradually and there seemed to be a quiet acceptance to everything that’s happening that even I am convinced that it’s really just the way it is and there is no way out.
Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Never Let Me Go. Kathy tells her story as if there was no other alternative, that it is really the only way for her and her friends. There is a quiet resignation in Kathy that she was destined to do what she was made to do, that there was no other choice but that. It makes me wonder what I would have done if I grew up in Hailsham and I knew what I know as I read this book — would I accept my fate as Kathy did or will I rebel? Or what if I was a guardian — how can I face those kids everyday for the first thirteen years or so of their life knowing what awaits them sometime in their life? Can my conscience take it, even if it is all in the name of science and the progress of humanity?
A movie version of this book starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley came out last year (in all other parts of the world, that is. It hasn’t been shown here yet). If you’re planning to read this, DO NOT watch the movie trailer if you don’t want to be spoiled. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I don’t know the difference, but it is always wiser to read the book first before watching the movie. Even if you’re not much of a reader, Never Let Me Go is too good of a book to pass up for the movie version. Make it one of the few books that you’d read in your life, if you must.
Never Let Me Go is one book that truly did not let me go (no pun intended). It reeled me in with its simplicity and refused to let me move on long after I finished with the last page. Beautiful and haunting, this is definitely one of my best reads for this year.
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store
Cover & blurb: Goodreads