Review: Never Let Me Go

Posted 15 January, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Never Let Me Go
By: Kazuo Ishiguro
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.

This is actually more of a commentary post than a review post since I never typed out a review post the first time I read this book…so yeah, story time: I found out about this novel because of the movie adaptation they made several years ago staring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. As always I wanted to read the book first but at the time I got a copy of the book, I ended up going on my semester exchange so it had to wait until I got back. Either way, it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book. So just a heads up, major spoilers if you haven’t read the book as I will be talking about some of the themes and events that happened throughout 🙂

This book is part of the A Year in Re-Reading: a 2014 Reading Challenge that I am participating in.

Okay, so before I continue, I have to say that the first time I read this novel, I was left rather underwhelmed. It was interesting enough but it did not leave any lasting impact on my part. Re-reading it again this time around, I’m still left feeling rather underwhelmed emotionally by the story but I have a greater appreciation of the story and the themes that it touches on.

Reflecting on it as I was reading, I think part of the reason why I felt rather =/ by the novel was because of the narrator, Kathy. On the one hand I can see why the author chose to write from her perspective: because of the path her story takes, because of how detached and observant and cool-headed she is. On the flip side, it does make for a rather clinical and disconnected read. I found myself wondering how she stayed friends with Ruth all those years in Hailsham and afterwards because they were just so different. Even towards the end when she finally got together with Tommy, it just seemed so…disconnected somehow. I just didn’t feel that connection the same way as I had when they were younger.

I guess it would be unfair to say that Kathy’s personality seemed rather flat, especially given Ruth and Tommy’s personalities. The first time I read this novel, I thought they were all really strange and confusing in their own way but re-reading it now I can see why Ruth and Tommy were the way they were. While Ruth seemed like that popular girl everyone wanted to be friends with in elementary/high school but has that snobbish/bossy streak in her, underneath it all I think the way she acted and the way she believed certain ideas really pointed to her desire for something out of her life. From all of the characters we meet in this story, she was the only one who really aspired to go out in the world and dreamed up a whole future for herself. It was really heartbreaking how it all came to nothing for her and how she resided with her fate.

Tommy on the other hand was peculiar. I’m inclined to agree with Kathy that deep down he probably understood the truth of what they were. On the other hand I think that there was just something in him that was yearning for…something (I’m still sorting my thoughts about him). I think had he been given some sort of meaning, some sort of purpose to work and strive for and was not put down constantly by his cohorts, things would have been better for him. Like, channel his energy towards something he loves doing, I think that was what he was missing during his time in Hailsham, direction and focus.

I found myself contemplating more about Hailsham, what is stood for, Miss Emily and Miss Lucy’s opposing perspectives on the subject of the students and Kathy & co. resigning to their fates. I can see where both women were coming from with regards to the students’ education: on the one hand, they were able to live life as normally as they were able to, have hopes and dreams and learn and interact with each other like any other child. On the other hand they were not thoroughly informed about what was ahead of them; in a way they were aware of it, as later instances at the Cottages indicated, but it was in direct opposition to the hopes and dreams they carried about the future. That they were, in effect, not really in control of their lives but that they all had the same end point, the same purpose. Their childhoods were not brutal like other clones were but then there’s the question of them fulfilling their potentials to the fullest now that they equipped them with knowledge and culture. Is it enough to just educate them and inform them enough to stay out of trouble, stray away?

Thinking a bit more on Kathy and Ruth’s friendship, I guess it ties into the theme of groups and the group mentality. Hailsham was their collective past and I suppose despite of everything, it will always bind them together somehow, like family or culture. But on a more relevant level, it does also relate to those formative years, the power of friends and the group during adolescence, etc.

I’m sure there were a few other things I wanted to point out about the novel but have already forgotten. Suffice to say I’m glad to have finally re-read Never Let Me Go. While many of my initial impressions about the novel still remain, especially regarding the character, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for their stories and the themes that this novel dealt with.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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4 Responses to “Review: Never Let Me Go”

    • Surprisingly enough, I still haven’t watched the movie! I always try to read the book before watching the movie and yeah, just never got around to it (I’m behind with movies in general so…)

      Have you read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books? I’ve only read two (this and The Remains of the Day) and this book really enforced in my mind how versatile a writer he can be with the settings and the themes, I think

  1. Nice review! I really enjoyed this book while I read it, though I agree that Kathy’s rather detached voice sometimes made me think that she wasn’t really as close to her friends as I thought she was supposed to be. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if she really connected to them as people or if she needed to connect with them because they shared a past. I know I was little disappointed, too, how willingly they all seemed to accept their fate, though I later heard Ishiguro say (and I wish I could pull up the quote) that it was them doing what they thought was a decent thing to do–giving themselves to others. I hadn’t seen it that way and at times it seemed more like resignation than like a choice. But Ishiguro’s interpretation gives the story a different kind of power.

    • Thanks! That’s interesting what Ishiguro mentioned in the context of their fates. I feel like I’ll need to contemplate on that idea further 🙂

      I guess that’s what makes Kathy an interesting choice as a narrator; if she connected to them because of their shared past, it makes her situation at the even of the novel even more tragic since no one’s left 🙁

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