Recently, I finished reading the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I certainly am glad I finally got around to reading the book because I’m still thinking about it. That’s how you know a book has gotten into your soul and spoken to you.
Never Let Me Go takes place in an imagined dystopian past. The story is told by a character named Kath. When the book begins, Kath is in her early thirties and has been working as what she refers to as a carer. She is looking back at her past as she prepares to make the transition from being a carer to being a donor. These words are all used in the beginning without the reader knowing exactly what they mean. I appreciate that the author was willing to trust the readers and not over explain.
In her reminiscing, Kath talks about her time at a boarding school in the English countryside. She remembers her friendship with a girl named Ruth and a boy named Tommy. In her stories, something sinister beneath the surface is hinted at but never fully explained. There is a scene when one of the teachers says that the students are being told something without really being told. This is the same experience the reader is having. The reader is being told something without really being told.
Maybe you already know what that something is because you know about this book. I’m not going to spoil it for people who don’t know the story and plan on reading it. So I won’t go any further into the plot.
Never Let Me Go examines how something horrific and terrible can over time become ordinary and even mundane. The main character speaks with almost no emotion about the terrible fate that awaits her and her classmates. When presented with something unspeakable enough times human beings become numb to it. It is a way of coping.
I especially enjoyed the way the story looks at things like authority, empathy, and art. One of the questions asked is whether or not Kath and her classmates have souls. Are they actually people who are worthy of empathy. One of the ways the teachers in the school try to prove that they do have souls is by collecting their artwork with the idea that the art can reveal who they really are inside.
It also explores the idea of otherness and how we distance ourselves from other living beings to make it easier to discard their lives or to allow them to suffer.
I think it also addresses progress. In it, we see a society that is willing to keep on hurting others because it is to the advantage of most of the people in society. Now that they have this technology that improves most lives how can they turn back? Even though giving it up would help save the life of another it is difficult to move backward.
The book isn’t preachy at all. The author knows how to trust the audience and give us just what we need to form an opinion for ourselves.
This was the first book I read by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ll definitely be adding his other books to my reading list.
I highly recommend Never Let Me Go. I have never seen the movie and I really don’t think I will but the book is moving. You can buy it on Amazon. (That’s an affiliate link.)