Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro, I’ve noticed, always incorporates elements of letting go, self-sacrifice, and sense of self in his books. He usually explores the line of where one person ends and another begins by creating dysfunction and imbalance in both the situation and in the characters, who usually are in a position of serving others to the point of near or total self-loss—although, that might be a misunderstanding, perhaps instead it is our issue of trying to understand how a person can be whole when his or her identity is formed through serving another/others.

He continues that theme in his book, Never Let Me Go (Random House, 2004).

Reviewers describe this book with terms like, “devastating,” “quiet desperation,” “deceptively simple,” “existential crisis,” and “emotionally shattering.”

The book doesn’t hide anything from you. It opens with the main character, Kathy H., telling the story of her life. She states the facts in the first sentence: she is 31, grew up in a school called Hailsham raised by a slew of guardians, and has been a carer—one of the best—of donors for more than eleven years. Upfront Ishiguro has revealed that this is a book of horror, for all that it is about a compelling story of a love and friendship triangle between Kathy and her two friends Ruth and Tommy. But you are so drawn in to the people and their relationships that it takes time to process that these people were created to serve as organ donors for the rest of the population.

After I read this book, I begged for someone to talk to me about it because it was burning a hole in my mind and soul. Thankfully, Mary-LUE was willing and able. We both found that this story grew and grew, more and more, the horror dawned on us increasingly after we had read the last page and closed the book. It takes a few days for it to all sink in. For me, it was the next day as I was driving on the highway. I glanced to the person in the car next to me, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by humanity, and I choked up thinking about it, and about the book.

It is devastating. But also gorgeous, moving, enthralling, and enlightening.

It’s horror, a parable, science fiction, a mystery, as well as a tale of characters growing and evolving—probably, believe it or not, the most compelling part of the book. It’s a story that is thick and rich, so dense you might normally read a couple of chapters and set it down to process, but you can’t because the story—the mystery and suspense—makes it a “read it all in one sitting page turner.”

I haven’t provided any spoilers.

You know where this book and its characters are headed from the opening line of the first page.

But you can’t accept it. You can’t let them go.

Or, at least I can’t.

If you like well-constructed fiction, go…read.


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