Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

by Kristopher Cook
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

A subversive work of art that both shocks, and delights within a dystopian narrative. The melancholy tone builds to a slow reveal, from a writer who never feels pushed to show his hand. A deliberate, functioning build up with emotional turns separates Never Let Me Go from many of its contemporary predeceases.

We’re All Different

The narrative is told from Kathy’s perspective, a clone growing up in an English boarding school known as Hailsham. Here the teachers are their guardians, and decide critical aspects of their lives, focusing on creative activities.

In the current day, Kathy is a carer looking for organ donors, which leads her to crossing paths with some of her former school friends. As conflicting feelings begin to rise, she must come to terms with her own imminent conclusion.

The title, Never Let Me Go is taken from a song by fictional singer, Judy Bridgewater. A cassette of her work becomes obsessed over by Kathy during the story’s narrative.

Futuristic Reality              

Never Let Me Go is one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years. It’s about much more than a dystopian future – it’s about the predictability of death, along with the evils in everyday life. With the trivial persistence’s and the crushing defeats, the theme of malevolent runs deep.

There are similarities to Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which alters American politics to fit its narrative. However, Never Let Me Go begins by changing the very foundations of science. By imagining a world in which genetic cloning is commonplace, the once familiar grounds of 20th century England are transformed.

Whilst the story is dystopian and futuristic, there are no flying cars a la Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The environments are distinctly unaffected by this new phenomenon.

…there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you—of how you were brought into this world and why—and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

This shows the switching of perspectives used in the book to convert completely different opinions on a situation. On one side, the children are joyous and running around, on the other, Madame, who doesn’t want any interaction with them.

The changing of viewpoints is also employed to bring comedy value in certain bleak situations. It’s a reminder that we never quite know what another person is thinking; even less their motives. In the case above, it turns out that Madame is not afraid of the children, but fearful of getting too close to them on a more personal level.

Lost Property

Setting up vital moments, such as Norfolks’ lost property, is another of Ishiguro’s strengths. Casting Norfolk is where all mislaid items go, waiting for their original owner to pick them back up.

Later, when travelling through Norfolk, Kathy realises this isn’t the case. Consequently, this shatters her emotional intelligence; making her question everything else she thought she knew growing up.

Similarly, it’s in these moments that we have a chance to connect to the characters further.

Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

We’ve all been led to believe things as a child because it makes things easier, often for the parents involved – The Easter bunny / Santa Clause, or the way an ice-cream van only plays its music when it’s run out of ice-cream.

In this instance, we learn the truth; it’s only natural to question the trust that was previously formed.

Kathy, ever the unreliable narrator, is both subjective and contradicted. Only her perspective is told, however, other character’s dialogues suggest alternative truths. She frequently starts off talking about one memory, only to interrupt the flow by talking about another. This flittering of chronological order serves to reinforce her instability as a storyteller.

They also show how memory can become clouded, and often manipulated by its user. Viewing a past as either entirely negative or entirely positive is a defence mechanism, often used to shroud harsher times.

All of these points show how adept Ishiguro is as a writer. His characters all interact, learn and progress through life; passing over roadblocks and ravines, garnering bruises along the way.

Closing Thoughts

Ishiguro has created a versatile, yet grounded dystopian world that pushes science laws whilst still maintaining its sensibilities.

Characters are dimensional, the plot is twisting, and the pace is quick. There was never a moment that I didn’t want to read on and find out the end truth. If you enjoy a slow-building plot with diverse characters, then definitely check out Never Let Me Go. As I said earlier, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time; up there with Ask the Dust.

This is the first Ishiguro novel I’ve read, but certainly not my last. I have Buried Giants sitting on my shelf, and I’ve subsequently pre-ordered his upcoming book, Klara and the Sun (March 2nd 2021).

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George September 26, 2022 - 5:37 AM

The singer, Judy Bridgewater and the song is not fictional!

Kristopher Cook September 26, 2022 - 6:49 AM

Hi George, thanks for taking the time to flag that – I didn’t realise. I’m not sure how I feel about this connecting to the real-world now.


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