Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm writing about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

My first thought was: I have no idea what to say about this book. And then hundreds of words suddenly poured forth from my fingers.

I'll start with this. I didn't want this book to end when it did. I was "in" the book for days after I finished reading it, even after I'd gone on to other books. This is, to me, the mark of a really good book. Ishiguro, the English author of Remains of the Day, created a world that felt terribly real to me, enough so that I felt betrayed when the book ended.

It ended rather abruptly.

And that left me frustrated. Ishiguro is good. He was so close so close so close to a great book with this one.

I don't know how much to say about the plot, as it's intentionally left mysterious throughout the novel. The main characters are leading an unconventional life, and only gradually do they realize it themselves. At no time is there an obvious ah-hah moment for the characters or the readers, just gradual confirmation of various assumptions. That part is very very well done.

  1. Fascinating conceit.
  2. Beautiful description.
  3. Realistic: perfect pitch relating awkward situations between people, subtle interactions that I’ve experienced but never even tried to describe to myself, let alone write down.

Questions (spoilers herein!)
  1. Why didn’t they ever consider just leaving? Any of them?
  2. What were they really donating, specifically? Was there a set order? Did they take multiple organs at once? Why just 4 times? Why not eyes? Why did they keep dying after 2 or 3 times? What’s up with the “messy” surgeries?
  3. And these are just donations for the common good, not, as I at first assumed, clones of individual wealthy people as personal body farms? Who were the initial cell donors, then? And the incubating mothers?
  4. Is it the same elsewhere as in England?
  5. How was it ensured that they could not have children?
  6. How did they keep from mixing more with the culture at large as adults?

  1. Stilted dialogue, especially in the early years at Hailsham, that took me out of the story. Way too many uses of names. “Kathy, blah blah blah.” “I don’t know, Tommy.” “But Kathy,” etc.
  2. Sex. Kathy’s attitude about it didn’t seem particularly normal to me, and I really expected that to play a larger role in the story. Maybe some people are like that, maybe some women. But in my experience it’s a far from universal experience for women of sex, though that’s how Ruth presents their shared experience to Kathy in a significant scene.
  3. SPOILER The never questioning, never disobeying, never doing anything risky, never pushing limits too far, never getting truly involved in the world, all that really bugged me. What were the rumors about Hailsham escapees and Tommy’s temper meant to suggest? All that seemed like foreshadowing something big. I expected him to walk away or commit suicide, just so that he’d know for sure.

And, also, what they said.

Initial reaction: pissed and cheated. Could have been so good, missed.

Weeks later: There's still far more I wanted to know. Perhaps I should seek out interviews with the author, his working notes, something like that. The world was a little . . . incompletely drawn in places. But one of my biggest frustrations - the way the characters simply accepted what happened to them and were observers rather than initiators of significant action - really was the point and was, therefore, while frustrating, perfectly rendered.

I think everyone should read this book, if only so that I can talk to all of you about it.

Check out the other reviews this month over at Barrie Summy's!


  1. Gosh, Sarahlynn, I don't know whether I'd want to read this book or not. Some of what you described is intriguing, but I'm not fond of abrupt endings either. Sometimes it's good when a book stays with you for days or weeks afterward, but not when you're left feeling frustrated. Maybe someone else will have read it.

  2. Oh, read it, read it! It's very good, which is part of why I found it so frustrating.