Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro, K. (2005). Never Let Me Go. London: Faber & Faber
[Genre: Alternate history, Dystopia. Maybe mildly sci-fi]
This is my fourth pick in my To-Be-Read Pile challenge for the year. It first came onto my radar it about 2008, when someone who knows my appreciation of dystopian fiction mentioned it. It hit the official to-read pile somewhere around late 2009 when I first heard about the movie being made and decided I'd better read it before I saw the movie. . . . a decision that usually results in me not watching movies until years after they've been released. . . .
I have real trouble summing this one up without giving major plot points away, so here's the publisher's blurb, which does a beautiful job: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy grew up together at Halisham, a seemingly idyllic school deep in the English countryside with a dreadful secret at its heart. Now thirty-one, Kathy attempts to come to terms with her childhood at Halisham and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the outside world.
This is one of those books that just grabs onto you and doesn't let go. A few days after finishing it, I feel like I haven't 'gotten over it' and won't for some time to come. I still haven't pinpointed exactly why. The writing style isn't overly descriptive and emotions are kept thoroughly in check throughout, something that doesn't usually attract me in a novel. Kathy's very conversational narrative voice can also be frustrating at times. That being said, it's stunningly realistic of how people in real life tell long life stories, with small memories sparking a multitude of thoughts that can only be resolved and explained by backtracking. Ishiguro has a real talent for unveiling small corners of the mystery at a time without pulling back the sheet. We go from having absolutely no idea of whats going on in this alternate 1990's, to being able to make some guess, to having a two-thirds completed picture of a history that is horrific because it is totally believable. I've seen several reviewers moan that the reality of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy's life is never 100% totally revealed, but to be honest I think it's better that way. Ishiguro doesn't speak down to his audience and it means we are free to come to our own interpretation of the ultimate themes and consequences of Never Let Me Go, instead of being smacked in the face with them like so many authors do. It would also be untrue to Kathy's characterisation - she is a passive observer in a world that been constructed around her and it would be a complete about-face to her to go hunting for every last detail. It's another thing that I love about this novel - we are introduced to three characters and come to 'know' them completely when in reality we know very little of them. The lack of descriptive text means I really have no idea what any of them look like. The first person perspective means we have large gaps in the story of Ruth and Tommy when Kathy loses touch with them. Yet Ishiguro makes us feel for them and with them.
I'm sorry that this is all I'm going to say on this one! I'd love to analyse it piece by piece. But I don't want to spoil it for you. And I'm finding it hard to write a review when I'm still reeling from the sheer goodness of this story. Go find it for yourself. I promise it's worth it. I honestly appreciated this one in the same way as Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (and significantly more than Huxley's Brave New World) and would not be surprised if it comes to sit among the classics of the genre.