Never Let Me Go is a truly thought-provoking book, by turns mysterious, unsettling, and sad. It’s the first book I’ve read by Kazuo Ishiguro, so I didn’t know what to anticipate, aside from an undercurrent of science fiction from the accounts of some of my friends. I found it reminiscent of The Giver, by Lois Lowry, which is a middle-school classic about a dystopic society that assigns roles to its community members and shields them from true emotion.
The voice of the narrator, Kathy H., who at the time of the telling is thirty-one, is friendly and direct. There are no swoopy narrative descriptions — she tells her story like it happened, although she continually circles back and foreshadows what’s to come with subtle hints.
Early in the book, you’re thrown into the strange world that Kathy lives in, which is removed from typical British society. Ishiguro frames the story as though Kathy is speaking to a fellow “carer” (something I’ll get more into later), who might have been raised in a different boarding school but who implicitly understands her role in society. Of course, the reader doesn’t implicitly know all this, so it draws you deeper into the mystery of the story.
I want to delve into the details, so I’m going to throw in a big Spoiler Alert and continue after the jump. Join me there!
Kathy’s boarding school, Hailsham, is set in an idyllic piece of England, but something I noticed early on was the lack of any family presence. I know that boarding schools are common in the UK, but the students who attend them have siblings and parents. Not so at Hailsham. That, plus the presence of “guardians” rather than teachers and the elliptical references to “carers” and “donations” made it clear that this was an unusual boarding school.
Once I understood that Kathy and her fellow students were clones who were meant to provide organ donations, it reminded me of the movie “The Island,” starring Scarlett Johanssen and Ewan MacGregor, which has a similar conceit. The idea of breeding people as organ donors is intellectually very repulsive, but Ishiguro succeeds in making the characters living, thoughtful human beings. I caught on early that the Hailsham emphasis on creating art was about proving individuality and the presence of a soul, so I felt validated when Miss Emily confirmed it near the end. I wanted more detail (maybe a bit morbid, but still) on the donations, though. How was it possible for people to give more than one donation, much less four, and continue to live? The kidney seems an obvious choice, followed by parts of the liver, but beyond that, were they supposed to be donating eyes? Lungs? Hearts? This was a part of the book that left me wanting much more, even though I’m sure it was a deliberate decision by Ishiguro to be vague about it.
So, I want to hear from you, Bookworm Readers, who’ve read Never Let Me Go. Help me sort out this donation business, the characters, the story. What drew you in? Were you as annoyed by the Ruth character as I was? What surprised you? Send me your posts or make comments below. Can’t wait to get this conversation started!