Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it. Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it's only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Fascinating. Mesmerizing. Intriguing.
Much like the car crash that you can’t take your eyes off of, this novel had me stymied as to how I felt about it. One minute repulsed and the next fascinated. From “I really like this book” to “I hate this book.”
The story is told by 31 year old Kathy H. and takes place in a dystopian Great Britain where people are cloned for the sole purpose of providing donor organs. Although the author only reveals this through veiled language and doesn’t come right out and confirm it until the last section, it didn’t take very many pages for me to figure this out so I don’t think this is much of a spoiler.
Kathy has reconnected with two old friends, Ruth and Tommy, from her days as a student at a school for “special” children, Hailsham. Their memories of the place include being fenced in and being looked after by “guardians” who emphasize healthy habits. Things happen there that make them suspicious of what the future holds for them, especially the statements of one rogué guardian, but it isn’t until they get to the second stage, the ‘Cottages,” where they are able to explore the world on their own, that the meaning of their life starts to sink in. They are preparing to be “carers” but hold out hope that Ruth and Tommy, as a couple, may be able to get a deferral. Finally, in Book 3, it becomes apparent that all three have followed the traditional route. Ruth and Tommy are now both donors, awaiting their first, second, third and fourth donation of organs, or until they “complete,” Ishiguro’s suggestive euphemism for death.
The writing is straight forward and certainly kept me turning pages. The characters themselves were flat and emotionless by design and the creepiness of the plot was unsettling. So at this point, I’m ambivalent, I still can’t say I liked or disliked the book. Then again, the topic is important and not actually out of the question, which makes it all the more….well….creepy. Enter at your own risk.
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!
When reading Ishiguro's book, I couldn't help but think of Brave New World.
Never Let Me Go will haunt me for a long time. Last year, when reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and when I recently read Unwind, I had the same feelings and thoughts, ie how far will society go to make the perfect human; to what extent do we compromise the process of natural death, replacing it with a brave new world of those with new organs, limbs and "souls."
This is a remarkable tale that is deceptively slow moving. Each nuanced sentence is a marvel, each paragraph and chapter gently unfolds while paradoxically hitting with a punch.
Told through the voice of the character Kathy H, we feel as though we are chatting with her over a cup of coffee as she tells her story, engaging us with her tale of childhood, of adulthood and of discovering the fate that will eventually unfold.
With Kathy, we are transported to dystopian Britain where enclaves of sequestered young people live in community. Through tidbits of information we learn they are clones whose sole purpose in life is for the harvesting of their organs.
As Kathy and her two friends Ruth and Tommy leave one part of their life, they are transported to cottages wherein they begin to have contact with the outside world. Again, through veiled comments and secrets, they discover that this second phase is to prepare them for the process of "Donation."
Welcome to the world of the future wherein the term "The Haves and the Have Nots" takes on an entirely different meaning than the reference of today.
Watching a young girl dancing by herself in a dream of romantic love and fulfilment is a heartbreaking experience to anyone who knows what her future inevitably looks like. I find it heartening to hear about the large number of school children who simply decide to *bleep* the future and get whatever they can out of what's on offer right now.
The fact that most of us haven't made that choice and have decided to plod, plod, plod along like stupid dray horses, is the answer to the question why the characters in this novel don't pull some sort of "Logan's Run".
How dare they!? How dare they do that to them! To these innocent children!!
Never Let Me Go is loaded with chilling philosophical/ethical dilemnas & spiritual conundrums, reminiscent of what Rod Serling accomplished in his Twilight Zone vignettes. Describing the plot in greater detail would ruin the experience of Never Let Me Go. I had the misfortune of seeing a certain tag for this novel before I read it and so knew beforehand what the "secrets" were. Wish I hadn't seen that stupid tag, because the slow mind blowing waves of realization when they break would've hurt a lot worse had I entered the novel naive. I recommend reading Never Let Me Go ignorant of its designs, aware only that once you do know what Hailsham and its students represent, you might wish you didn't.
I believe Never Let Me Go, in 50 years, will be looked back upon in a similarly reverent fashion as we now look back upon Brave New World, We, & 1984. Instant classic in my book.
And a final word on the title. The title's taken from a song the protagonist, Kathy, discovered on a cassete tape and loved as a child. The song, "Never Let Me Go," touched her deeply. The title, of course, is a pun, referencing not only the obscure song but also speaking to what's in the heart of Kathy, what she wants to hold onto as a person, her identity. "Never let me go" is a plea resonating in Kathy's soul; a plea she's made to herself at some point; a plea (if I may jump inside Kathy's mind for a moment) "for me to remain me", but is this a plea that's possible and can ultimately be heeded? Guess you'll have to read it to find out.
The book is mostly a description of a rather idyllic adolescence at an English boarding school, centering around a closely observed triangle of relationships. There is plenty of interest and drama, and yet a curious mutedness. Even in the relationships among the protagonists, more is communicated by what is not said than by what is said.
The author's control, and his ability to reveal the truth in exquisitely small steps, is unparalleled.
Prior to its release I heard an interview on NPR with the author of Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I was surprised that he spoke openly about the novel’s subject matter because, when you read the book itself, the fact that these school children are clones, raised to donate all their organs to others, is not revealed up front. It was then I realized that this was no cheap M. Night Shymalan stunt and that Ishiguro had a more universal meaning in mind when he wrote this. I suggest that potential readers ignore those critics who see this book as a dystopian vision of medical science gone awry. It’s not that, believe me.
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are students at Hailsham, a boarding school in some remote corner of England. Hailsham is also an orphanage of sorts, because the children have lived there all of their lives, having been raised by their "teachers." The reader understands pretty quickly the nature of their future role in society and, as such, the entire novel seethes with an underlying mood of bleak horror without ever getting truly mired in it until very close to the end. One reads with a kind of grim fascination as these kids obsess over the minutiae of their lives - what pop album to buy at the semi-annual Sale held at the school, whether or not their artwork would be chosen for display in the mythical gallery, their petty squabbles and school yard romances. Even after they learn the truth, these things still matter to them, leading the reader to wonder why. How can they care about such nonsense when faced with such a dire and inescapable fate?
But isn’t that life?
Don’t we all fill our lives with meaningless clutter in order to avoid contemplating death? The kids at Hailsham are living their lives, facing the inevitability of death and coping in the same way we all do. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter the manner in which anyone dies - the simple fact is, we all die and we all spend our lives trying to drown out the thought of it with the clamor and clatter of the mundane. Toward the end of her story, the narrator, Kathy, finds love with a fellow student and they attempt to bargain their way out of their fate, but this episode is hardly depicted as an angry rebellion against an evil and cold-hearted government, but rather a simple questioning, in the same way a dying person questions or bargains with God.
This is a thought provoking book, quiet in its power. Read it before you see the film. Better yet, read it instead of seeing the film.
As for the story, I won't get into spoilers but there are plenty of comments that will give you a slight idea before you start. The story almost requires that so that you have some framework to fit it into as it is revealed. The narration is a little disjointed and jumps in time a bit, just like it would if someone sat down and started telling you something and then realized that they had to go back even further so it would make sense.
I found the real thread of the story was life in community. The years of the children in the boarding school are a study in how they relate to each other and how they conspire with the adults to not dwell on the uncomfortable topics. Then there is the atmosphere of the farmhouse where some of them stay after they leave the boarding school. And finally the community where the caretaker no longer has as much in common with old friends as the people in the nursing home have with each other.
For many reasons, it is a lonely story in the end.
I am still not certain if the main issue of the book - human cloning - was meant to be obvious to the reader or not. As a device, meaning that the reader understands the problem but the characters in the book are still trying to figure it out, it was interesting.
The story revolves around three main characters. The narrator Kathy, Kathy's best friend Ruth and the boy they both like, Tommy. We follow them as they grow up at boarding school and start to realize who they are and what it means for their future.
Kathy discusses the problem with the reader in a very personal way throughout the story. It felt like being in one of those "girlfriend" conversations where one of the women is trying to figure something out, but it takes awhile, and there are a lot of tangents.
I liked Kathy. In many ways, she is more realistic about life than the others. Of course, we also get to know her better. Tommy seemed like the pawn. He was useful to Kathy or Ruth for pointing out certain things, but he was fairly helpless. Even when he had an idea or theory of how to change something, still Kathy or Ruth had to be the ones to take action. Ruth is the dreamer. She is resigned to her fate, but she invents different endings to her story so she can cope. Just to get it out of my system, I have to wonder how anyone put up with Ruth for this entire story. Ruth is just absolutely impossible.
Some book group discussions that I could see happening after reading this book:
1. Human cloning - yes or no?
2. How do you determine the quality or value of a soul?
3. Why does being soulless result in being denied choices?
4. Is it kind or unkind to hide the horrible truth from someone, if knowing might hurt them?
5. How does being or not being part of a group define you, and why would someone want to be part of a group when there is no real benefit other than belonging?
6. How important is timing in relationships?
That said, the one thing holding me back from loving this book was that it did not feel evenly paced. As the story progressed, more and more is revealed about the characters and the world they live in until finally, in several pages of almost pure monologue, all the details get spilled out right before the book ends. This just felt unnatural to the rest of the story to me and it almost wasn't necessary. This doesn't ruin the book but it did stick out.
This is the story of three young people (Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy) at a private school in England and how their relationship to each other developed over the course of their lives. No, I will not give you the spoiler here in my review. What I did think, though, is that the “hook” that makes this an unusual story should not have been foreshadowed in the beginning (as it was only too obvious what it meant), but it should have been revealed much later in the novel. That aside, I also could not understand why Kathy and Ruth were friends at all. Theirs was such a contentious relationship!
The novel itself is interesting in a thought-provoking way. I’m sorry that the novel mostly centered on the characters' relationships and did not delve further into their more specific roles later in life. I liked this novel, though. Even the long-winded explanations given by the narrator, Kathy, of what life was like for her during her school years.
We learn, in the same way the students at the school learn, the destiny of these children. They are given information at an early age about what they are being raised for, but they don't really KNOW in any meaningful way. They are being indoctrinated to accept what to us is a horrifying life and end. But to the students, it becomes ordinary, acceptable, and normal. This is the magic of the book. We learn that the children are clones and their purpose is to make "donations" of their organs later in life. We learn, as do they, that this destiny is without recourse, cannot change. There is no question or doubt that this is all life has in store. And because it has become so completely ordinary, there is no sense of horror or any kind or rebellion on the part of the donors, it just is. This to me was the true point of the book. In the right set of circumstances, even the most horrific of actions can be made commonplace and acceptable. So it was a horror story of the best kind.
The language is beautiful, the characters have great depth, and the story is so deceptively simple. But so calmly and quietly are the layers revealed that it seemed all of a sudden that I was spellbound with anticipation as the suspense grew almost unbearable. I will remember and think about this book for many years, as one of the best I have ever read.
This was not the case for me with this book at all. It was a page turner, something that I'd never expect from Ishiguro. For me the story was crafted, planned and delivered perfectly. Of course there's something that left me troubled after finishing and I can't articulate what that is. But whether I like the story or not I can't take away from the fact that this book is so well written that it completely grasped me.
Ishiguro has made a powerful statement with this book, one so emphatically troubling. The book has a poetic tone throughout and it created disturbing images in my mind that at times actually made me shudder. It's all very sad.
The book actually reminded me a lot about The Catcher in the Rye that I love so much, minus the humour. What this book has that a lot of other ones lack, is the author's mastery of suspense, making you want to go further to find out about what's happening, but at the same time keeping a very clear roadmap of all things, not just for himself but for the audience as well. I never found myself lost in the flashbacks. In this regard, the book reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife, which gave me a new look and a new appreciation for science fiction. This book did something of the sort for me as well. Its impact on me was only enhanced by the fact that I knew nothing about it at the beginning, other than that it was a near Booker winner.
I think too many people are judging the quality of a book based on whether they like the story or not. While I think to a certain extent that readers are entitled to do that, I think there's a lack of objectivity in doing so. I, like many who have read this book, am disturbed and made sad by it, but I must say that it was exactly what the book had set out to do, and because of that it's exceedingly well written and effective.
That 1/2 star that I retain is for the fact that such depression can't possibly make my absolute favourite list, and for that something troubling, which I can't quite articulate.
Plotwise, there is little worth revealing if Ishiguro's craft is to be admired at its peak. Kathy H., the narrator, is one of a group of students at the "elite" English boarding school Hailsham. The nature of the school, its eccentricities, and the interpersonal relationships amongst the cliques of students are all lent a veil of mystery that is fairly well concealed for roughly the first quarter of the novel.
By the halfway point of the novel, the true meaning of many of the book's veiled incidents and terms are at last revealed, with the remainder of the book dealing with the consequences of these revelations. The deliberateness of the novel's pacing, given that Kathy as a narrator is prone to fits of digression, is Ishiguro's trademark, but one that fits especially well in this plot. The care given to the story's construction is reflected in the moments where earlier events, which seemed to have little significance at the time, have much larger consequences later -- Kathy's reading of porn magazines, for instance, jumps out.
If there's a weakness to the novel, it's in its resolution, which is staged too much like a hero-nemesis matchup to feel as genuine as the rest of the novel, and it's unfortunate that the explanatory section is the one that rings most false. Yet even with its flaws, Never Let Me Go is surprising and surprisingly engrossing.
Like Ishiguro is wont to do, he will bait you very gently, almost imperceptibly, but before this tour de force novel ends, you'll be inextricably hooked.
3 setting where the book took place or characters I met
* Setting: England, late 1990s
* Kathy H. is the narrator of this book, which is primarily about her experiences at a boarding school called Hailsham and some of the things that happened to her after leaving the school. When we first meet Kathy, she is 31-years-old and is looking back on her time at Hailsham in order to make sense of what happened during her time there. Primarily, she wants to examine the relationship that developed between her, a girl named Ruth and boy named Tommy.
* Ruth and Tommy were two of Kathy's fellow students at Hailsham, and the three of them develop a complex and complicated relationship amongst themselves that changes and morphs several times over the years. It is Kathy's need to make sense of this triangle that prompts her to look back on her days at Hailsham and the events that took place after Ruth, Tommy and Kathy left the school.
4 things I liked or disliked about the book
* I liked how Ishiguro doesn't lay all the cards on the table from the start. Much like Kathy, the reader gets bits and pieces of a puzzle that they need to assemble for themselves as the book progresses. Ishiguro keeps doling out the pieces of the puzzle one at a time--holding back a few key pieces until the end of the book. The puzzle starts on the very first page when Kathy matter-of-factly refers to the fact that she has been a carer for over eleven years. Of course, this term meant nothing to me. "A carer?" I thought to myself. "What the heck is a carer?" Then she starts tossing out other terms--like donations--that begin to create questions in your mind. But then Kathy's story takes on some rather humdrum elements and begins to seem like any other "young people dealing with relationships at a boarding school" book ... but then Ishiguro swoops in and lays another puzzle piece before you that has you wondering just what is going on.
* I liked how Ishiguro created a story that develops on two different levels. One is the story that Kathy is telling us--the story of her experiences and perceptions. But as we gather puzzle pieces and start putting them together in our minds, the reader begins to write another story--a much darker and frightening story than the one Kathy seems to be telling us. It is as if the reader becomes part of the story--filling in the gaps that Ishiguro chooses to leave blank. In many ways, I found the book to be almost an interactive reading experience. It was quite interesting.
* I liked how Ishiguro raises a host of ethical issues without addressing them directly. Instead, Ishiguro comes at things obliquely--laying out ethical dilemmas but leaving them unanswered or offering mixed messages based on how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy view their lives. It was an interesting way to tackle these issues, and I think it makes for a good discussion. My mom read this book at the same time as me, and we ended up getting in a rather lively discussion of the variety of topics raised by the book. It would be a good choice for a book club.
* I disliked not getting MORE details about the dystopic world that Ishiguro creates. Once I realized what was going on, I became thirsty for more information on how this society came about and the logistics of how it functioned. As much as I admire Ishiguro's approach to this book, it also left me feeling dissatisfied. I would have loved a follow-up to this book ... a sort of companion book that described the society that led to the creation of a place like Hailsham and a person like Kathy H.
5 stars or less for my rating:
I hemmed and hawed about what rating to give this book, but I finally decided to give it 4 stars. Although I didn't fall in love with the book, I admire how Ishiguro chose to tell the story. It was a different reading experience, and I have to say I liked it.
I went into this book fairly oblivious about what the story and subject matter was about (and I hope I've managed to avoid any spoilers in my review) so I spent a lot of time in the beginning being confused and uncertain. Now it is possible that I am a bit of a dim bulb and other readers (Amanda ... I'm thinking of you here!) are clued in as to what is going on from the very start. But I suspect that most readers might have the same reading experience I did.
Although this is the type of book that will confuse you, perplex you, frustrate you, annoy you and (sometimes) bore you, in the end, it satisfies you and sticks with you. In fact, I think I like the book better now writing about it a few weeks after reading it than I did when I first read it. If you like to take chances on your reading or would like to see a different approach to how to write a dystopic novel, I would recommend Never Let Me Go wholeheartedly.
This is a sad story. Its also a story about love, hope, fate, and what makes a person human. It also helps that Kazuo Ishiguro is a genius when it comes to writing books. Every sentence, paragraph, comma and period are placed with utmost precision. It leaves a reader with exactly what is needed, no unnecessary plot, one sentence explaining what in lesser authors would take a paragraph. He also know how to write lyrically, with feeling. Its almost as if its a poem in prose form.
The plot surprised me - I knew what the school was when I started reading it. But, it took a turn I wasn't expecting, a quiet story, quietly covering human morality, right and wrong in the form of a remembered childhood.
With no exploration of the many issues raised by the basic premise of the novel, it became for me a rather nonotonous observation of the prattlings of self-absorbed teenagers. A very disappointing book.
Kathy is both sensitive and sensible emotionally, and grows up to be a "carer", tending to the needs of others. But what she is caring for, and what lies in her own future, is heartless and horrifying. The Hailsham grads can only look to each other for succor and solace. Because maybe, in a way, we didn't leave it behind nearly as much as we might once have thought. Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and no matter how much we despised ourselves for it--unable quite to let each other go.”
In part this is a fable about the dangers of our obsession with science as a means to overcome death, here called "completion". In part it is an age-old tale of the exploitation of an oppressed group, and the difficulty of overcoming indoctrination and successfully opposing those in charge. “I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”
This was a solid, interesting read. Three and three-quarters stars.
But then again, this isn't ...morePerhaps it would have been better going into this book if I hadn't known that there was a sci-fi element to it. Then again, I probably wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't known. By the second or third reference to "donations" and "carers" I knew what was going on in the background that wasn't being explained. Yet I still hoped that there would be a twist that would make it more compelling, less predictable.
But then again, this isn't really a book that isn't really based on the plot, but rather the changes in relationships as people grow up together and then move beyond the comfortable walls of a boarding school. It was about emotions and all those under-the-surface things that no one is saying, but everyone knows. It came to the point that the sci-fi-ish bits were superfluous and got to be a little redundant to the point of the occasional annoyance. And the info-dump in the final few pages was a little much, and would have worked better, I think, if it had been spread out a little more through the last third of the book.
I would really give it 3.5 stars if I could. The language was beautiful at times and was definitely a vivid depiction of boarding school life in England. Knowing that there's a movie version out there, I kept picturing Sally Sparrow, Spiderman and that girl from the Pirates movies (which, of course, is all of their real names) as the characters instead of images I'd created on my own. I think that might of helped a bit since the narrator seemed to fit Sally Sparrow.
Understated and British. It's not a bad book; I was just hoping for more.