In A Nutshell
Simple, subtle, and insidious. The most horrifying parts are the ones that are the most familiar.
The Whole Enchilada
Never Let Me Go is a book I couldn’t stop reading, and one I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about for quite some time. On the surface it can almost come off as a simple love triangle, although the circumstances (revealed slowly over the course of the book) make the story so much more; and beyond the story itself, the moral and societal issues brought up in the book are hardly the kind of thing you can sweep under the rug after reading the last page. The story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy is a centuries-old one: two girls, one boy, love, uncertainty and betrayal. On its own there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the triangle between these three young adults; it’s the dark secret that underlies their very existence which makes this story so compelling.
You see, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy aren’t just your average lovelorn teenagers; they each have an important and specific purpose which they absolutely cannot escape or deviate from. It is this purpose, what it means and how they gradually come to terms with it, which sets their love triangle apart from all others. Each of their decisions and reactions takes on much more weight and importance than you might otherwise find. It is the contrast of this simple and recognizable story set in such amongst such utterly disturbing circumstances that makes it so powerful, and so impossible for the reader to put down.
Ishiguro proves that he is a master storyteller with Never Let Me Go. It’s clear from the very first sentence that there is something not quite right about the world that our narrator Kathy H. belongs to, but Ishiguro (and Kathy) take their time revealing exactly what that disconnect is. This exquisite restraint is what keeps the reader going, what causes a frisson every few pages, and what makes the careful reader look closely at every seemingly innocent event, every mysterious character, and every curious choice of words.
One of the things that struck this careful reader most strongly by the end of the book was the way vocabulary is almost hijacked by those in power to keep the powerless from rebelling. There is nothing so effective as using a victim’s own language to induce pain, confusion, and submission. The book begins, for example, with this: “My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years… My donors have always tended to do much better than expected… hardly any of them have been classified as ‘agitated,’ even before fourth donation.” If all of this subversive and incomplete talk of “carers”, “donors” and eventually of “completing” doesn’t disturb you then there’s something wrong. Before the meaning had been revealed I shuddered every time I read the word “Completing;” once I knew for sure what it meant I had to hold back tears every time it cropped up in the story.
Never Let Me Go is both hard to read and too easy to read, all at the same time. It’s an extremely uncomfortable book that tells a story so important and compelling that it is impossible to put down.
Reading is a solitary experience, but contemplation of a book benefits from discussion and argument. For a slightly different take on this book check out the blog of my very well-read friend Denise: Let Sleeping Dragons Lie. If you have your own opinion or review to add to the conversation please comment below, or feel free to link to your own review.