Never Let Me Go is one of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most famous texts, which I very much enjoyed. Not having read any of his work before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from such an author. This is a man who was born in Japan and moved to England when he was just five years old, meaning he has become very much Anglicised but has a deep interest in dystopian fiction. With this in mind, I began Never Let Me Go.
The plot boils down to this. Kathy H, Ruth and Tommy are a group of friends at an English boarding school called Hailsham where the teachers are known as Guardians. The school has certain odd characteristics, this is not a typical school. The students have it drilled into them that hygiene and health are very important. They also must submit art work to a gallery at the school and all try their hardest to get it chosen for the gallery. Everyone, except Tommy who feels apathetic with regards to just about everything. The children know nothing of the future that awaits them and simply go through school completely ignorant of the destiny that has been placed in front of them. A new teacher at the school, Miss Lucy, takes it upon herself to put this straight and explains to the children that they are to become donors, who give up their vital organs to aid the general public, one at a time, until they have lost too many to survive. The children only half understand this but as they grow older it begins to dawn on them what will happen to them.
After completing school Kathy, Tommy and Ruth move into ‘The Cottages’ where they live with other ex-students. By this point Tommy and Ruth have embarked on a love affair and Ruth believe Kathy is jealous. They begin to become interested in who their ‘original’ might be, the one they were cloned from and make an innocent effort to find out. Then they visit Norfolk, ‘the lost corner of England’, where they hear a rumour about deferrals. If two clones can prove they are very much in love then they can defer the donations for a number of years. However nothing else is known about this.
Before they know it time has passed and Kathy has decided to become a carer, this means she defers donations for a couple of years to care for those having donations. However, Tommy and Ruth go straight into making donations. By this point they have broken off their relationship and when Kathy is asked to care for Tommy she realises how in love with him she is. Making a snap decision, they decide to visit their old head teacher and plead for a deferral. Now I’ll leave it up to you to read the novel to find out whether they get the time together they so much deserve.
I really enjoyed this novel as it was well written and so unlike anything else I have ever read. It was gripping and subtle and intriguing all at the same time. Kathy also, despite being a little too contemplative most of the time, has a very likeable personality and that’s always a key thing in a novel with a limited narrator. The story takes unexpected twists and turns and is very cleverly timed so the reader only discovers major elements about the lives of the donors at the same time as the characters in the story (though I may have spoilt that with my detailed plot summary). Generally, I found it a well formed, thoroughly thought out novel that kept me interested to the very end. Highly recommended.
P.s The film version with Kiera Knightley and Carey Mulligan is nowhere near as good as the novel and personally I would not even bother with it. After the end of the novel you feel you have completed a journey with the characters, you cared about them and something positive happened to put this brutality to an end. At the end of the film I felt like I had wasted 2 hours watching characters I barely knew achieve absolutely nothing and the brutality of the donations continued. No good had been achieved by the end of the film and I had no bond with any of the characters. This was a major let down for me, especially for a film with such good actors and such a beautiful setting.