Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
In one of the most acclaimed and original novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.
Why I Picked It Up:
I'd always been curious about it and now with the movie coming out soon, I felt like there was no time like the present.
What I Think:
One thing that annoys me before I read a book (or, to be honest, see a movie, watch an episode of a television show, etc) is to hear a friend's opinion on the piece of work. I don't mean them saying something like "It's really good!" or "I didn't really like it." Those are vague enough that they don't affect my reading of the novel. However, if they mention something specific ("This character just got on my nerves," "The way they did this scene didn't seem realistic enough," "They kept mentioning this when they didn't need to"), I spend the entire reading focused on their comments. Usually, I know if I normally agree or disagree with said friend's opinions, as well, so I already have an idea of how I am to feel about whatever is in question. Basically, I have been prepared to go into something unknown with preconceived notions and that doesn't feel fair to the book so I try my hardest to avoid this.
When I picked this book up at the library, I ended up talking to my best friend (we'll call her A, for both anonymity and so that she feels like some sort of awesome inside source) over Skype later that night. I was rather excited to read it and told her so. She said that she had read it and while she kind of liked it, she could never get into it. At this point in conversations like this, I normally go, "No! Don't tell me any more! We can talk about it after I finish!" as we have these conversations about pretty much any media in our lives, but, as normal, she goes "Well, I'll just say that the narrator feels awkward because it's a British man trying to write in the voice of a young schoolgirl and it never feels authentic." Which, unfortunately, is exactly the kind of comment I always try not to hear before jumping into a book, especially as A and I have very similar taste and thus, I mentally resigned myself to feeling uncomfortable with the narrator.
Now, the novel jumps right into the story, with our narrator, Kathy, thinking back to her childhood and the various relationships and events that have formed her life up to this point. There are a lot of unfamiliar terms in her speech and questions that won't be answered for hundreds of pages and that's when I realized something. Maybe I just hadn't heard anything about the novel before I read it or somehow lived under a rock but it took me getting about 100 pages into it to realize that I was reading a science fiction novel. This was a delightful discovery. I adore science fiction and, in particular, the tone science fiction novels adopt by their sheer speculative nature.
This is a 'what if' novel, as most speculative fiction pieces are. It takes a scenario that actually isn't all that unbelievable and posits it into a picture of modern England. All of our characters are a product of this different reality and by showing them coming to terms with what their very existence means to both them and society as a whole, Ishiguro is able to point out the flaws in this idyllic seeming world, playing with morality and the greater good through the eyes of children.
I don't want to spoil what is going on in the novel as I accidently got spoiled by a google search about a hundred and fifty pages in and I felt it ruined it a little bit to me. The slow-dawning horror of what is actually going on is very well done, especially as it comes from the eyes of an innocent, a group of children that don't know any better and the strange reactions to events that seem normal to them from the adults around them. It's a well constructed tale, pushing its views without drowning the reader in some sort of preachy tone.
And that's where my preconceived notions began to distress me. I had it in my head that I should feel sort of put out by the narrator, as A was. We agree on about 99% of these sorts of things. But I have been reading speculative fiction most of my life and one thing that is a common reoccurrence in this sort of novel is an alien feeling from our narrator. Of course they shouldn't feel completely realistic; the whole point on the novel is that they live in a world different from our own and thus, they won't feel things the same way we do. They are written that way for a reaction, so the reader finds some sort of pity or empathy or fear from the way another human being could react to something so foreign to us. Kathy shouldn't feel like a normal schoolgirl because she isn't. She is a product of the reality of the book.
Never Let Me Go is a wonderful novel addressing a vision of a future that isn't so unbelievable from the point of view of a young girl. It tackles questions of morality in science and the age old question of why are we here. Admittedly, the science fiction fan in me was a little disappointed in the ending but the literature major appreciated the understatement. It is thought-provoking, touching and a little scary, to be honest. A surprisingly quick read and highly recommended.