Set in an alternate reality in the 1990s and narrated by Kathy, Never Let Me Go explores the history of Kathy and her schoolmates Ruth and Tommy at the exclusive Hailsham boarding school. Looking back on their lives, on the ways they were groomed for their future as donors, Never Let Me Go is a melancholy insight into the nature of innocence, loss and love.
Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize, 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It was named best novel of 2005 by Time magazine and received an ALA Alex Award in 2006.
Ishiguro set a tone of mystery early in the story and quickly built up a sense of anticipation and suspense. Unfortunately, I felt it never quite peaked and the reveal didn’t have the twist factor that I think Ishiguro intended.
What I Liked: I liked the narration. The slightly rambling story-telling from the (somewhat) self-aware narrator, Kathy, was engrossing but it repeated the same technique. Let me tell you a story, but first let me go back, and I’ll explain a thing and then get to the point.
It achieved the goal of fleshing out Kathy’s memories, of making them feel real but in the end, it was just a meandering way to avoid answering the questions of the reader.
What I didn’t like: I really wanted to like this book. I had an idea of what was happening by the halfway mark, and was disappointed in how the story played out after that.
Spoiler below, highlight to read:
Ishiguro wasn’t particularly subtle about the students being clones used for harvesting organs and so when we reach the climax of the story, as two students ask for their donations to be deferred, the whole explanation of their existence felt very two-dimensional. Even the description of The Gallery and it’s purpose felt flat after so much build up.
I had so many questions about how the cloning program started, the ethical implications behind it, how many students there were, how they were created and ultimately, what happens next to Kathy, and I felt cheated of a true resolution.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed the writing style, I was disappointed in the story.