Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
10/10, a delicate, poignant story in a well-crafted modern alternate reality
From the first paragraph, in which Ishiguro’s heroine identifies herself as a “carer,” it’s clear that we’re in a slightly different world. That is the first and one of the best examples of Ishiguro’s lovely language telling you many things in one. There is indeed in this world an occupation called “carer,” distinct from “caretaker,” but in addition, our heroine Kathy is a carer in life.
She introduces us slowly to the basics of her profession without anything that feels like needless exposition. Ishiguro reveals his world at just the right pace, allowing us to discover what Kathy already knows, so that by the time she dives more deeply into reminiscing about her childhood at school with her friends Ruth and Tommy, we have a context into which to place these memories. School brings up more questions: the children are educated in Hailsham, an isolated boarding school with some secrets that they are as ignorant of as we are. Kathy, from her adult perspective, lets us know that the secrets will be resolved with lines like, “Of course, if we had known then,” and narrates her past with an affectionate melancholy, whose cause becomes clear as we read.
The dynamic between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy forms the core of the book, carrying the book from the point at which we know what the secrets of Hailsham are. They are never exposed in a dramatic reveal, but after a certain point it is just assumed that you understand, just as Kathy says the children figured it out, but never talked about it. It’s just not as important as the relationships developing between the three of them. The synergy between the world and the characters kept me engaged, turning pages all the way up to the end.
The narrative voice, though subtle, is one of the strengths of Ishiguro’s work, and here it is beautiful, artfully rendered. I picked up my copy of “The Remains of the Day” (another brilliant book) to compare, and was amazed at how, upon opening to a random section, I was immediately immersed in the voice of the butler. It was really only that contrast that made me go back and think about how perfect the voice in “Never Let Me Go” is done. Kathy really is a carer, explaining at every turn how she felt and how she supposes other people feel, in an authentic and entirely sympathetic way. She is the perfect character to carry the story and message through the book.
Lovely language, a touching story, and characters so real you feel like you used to know them, once upon a time. What more could you ask from a book? If you are unfamiliar with Ishiguro’s work, you are doing yourself a disservice. Remedy that immediately.