Review: ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Kazuo Ishiguro)

The Book

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published: Faber and Faber, 2005
Genre: Literary fiction, speculative fiction

Synopsis (from back of book):

In one of the most memorable 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 31, 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.

What I Thought:

Another slow-to-start novel, I took a long time to warm to this one, although I found the subject-matter intriguing from the outset. TheĀ  issue I found was that Ishiguro has used a similar ‘voice’ for his narrator, Kathy, in this book as for the reserved butler in his renowned and beautiful novel The Remains of the Day. But while I found that voice utterly appropriate in the latter novel, in this one I felt it slowed the story down a little unnecessarily. This is not to say I don’t think Kathy should have been the narrator, but I am not sure she needed such a detached voice. I get what Ishiguro was trying to do, to make a very harrowing tale seem matter-of-fact does magnify the poignancy when it works, but in this case I don’t think it quite worked. Or at least, not all the way through. I very nearly put the book down altogether a couple of times simply because I didn’t find the narratorial voice particularly captivating.

The book does raise some excellent philosophical questions though, and the story it tells – once you dig down past all that detachment, as was no doubt Ishiguro’s aim – is a deeply touching, and intriguing one. I did like the drip feeding approach to what is really going on in this imagined version of England, and I really enjoyed the story… but I don’t think this work is on par with The Remains of the Day. Funnily enough though – and I almost never say this – I thought the movie was excellent; even better in this case than the book. This was because the visual interpretation of the story gave it an immediacy and impact which it was lacking in the novel.

However, I would highly recommend reading the novel first if you can, then watching the film, because although the film stands on its own it is necessarily condensed and I think you will take a lot more away from it, and better understand and feel with trhe characters if you have read the whole story.

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