Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read Never Let Me Go for the second time recently. It’s just as sad, profound and emotional as it was last time.

It’s hard to talk about NLMG without giving away the twist. When asked, you say, “Well, it’s about these 3 kids, and...” And then you stop, mouth open as you realise there’s not much else you can say. This twist is such a huge part of the novel – there would be no story without it – and yet saying it straight off ruins the mystery. So I’ll do my best to review it without major spoilers.

Kazuo Ishiguro builds up the suspense carefully. Straight away you’re confused with all this unfamiliar terminology; mention of ‘donations’, ‘carers’ and ‘completion’. Slowly, he reveals more and more, until you’re left with the raw truth. When you think about it, it is horrifying. But the fact that the main characters aren’t horrified by it is worse, because it’s part of their life that’s always been there, even if they weren’t fully aware of it.

The story takes place in the picturesque countryside of England in the 1990s. The situation is perhaps harsher as it takes place not in the metallic chambers and factories used as backdrops in other sci-fi, but at farms and old houses surrounded by rolling hills and ivy-covered churches. Because this is a sci-fi book, it’s just hard to see it. There are no spaceships or aliens lurking around the corners of Hailsham School, just a curious oddness about the way things are said and done.

Our narrator is Kathy H, who starts by saying she is 31. She then relates to us – almost as if we were a person she was speaking to, with terms like “I don’t know what it was like where you were, but...” – how she grew up in Hailsham School with her friends, their life at the Cottages, and their devastating destinies in the world beyond. It’s a romance, certainly, with the love triangle of sorts between Kathy, her best friend Ruth, and her other friend Tommy. But the romance is a sort of sidenote to the real drama: why Kathy and the others are at Hailsham in the first place, how they are different from everyone else, and what awaits them in the future.

It’s a dark, thought-provoking book. The fact that they live in this horrible world, and their matter-of-factness about what will happen to them is appalling. We see everything from Kathy’s point of view, a view we consider rational and normal, and so when confronted with society’s view of her and what she must do we are disgusted, until we realise “That’s probably what we’d all do in these events”. We can see why everyone acts the way they do, even while we gasp.

Don’t take this as light reading – NLMG is complex and thought-provoking, with a narrative that jumps back and forth through time and plenty of questions about morality raised. What constitutes a human being? What constitutes good and evil? Is it right to take a life if it saves others? Does anyone get the right to control another’s life and destiny? These are just some of the quandaries gleaned from this novel.

Never Let Me Go is an amazing book. It’s heartbreaking, emotionally-charged and complicated. If you’re looking for action, it’s rather slow-paced, but for anyone interested in an intricate, delicately-layered sci-fi romance that manages to soothe you with its quiet, calm tone, then sucker punch you in the gut one page later, this is the book for you.

10/10, no doubt about it. Could be my most favourite book ever, and I’ve read a lot of books.

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