Book column: Never Let Me Go
Reading with Rachel
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 21:09
Seeing as I couldn’t think of another terrible book to review without resorting to romance novels or teen supernatural romance, I decided to read a novel that is one of my friends’ personal favorites.
“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro is narrated by a woman known only as Kathy H., and is primarily about her experiences at her childhood school and home, Hailsham, and her friends Ruth and Tommy. The novel is read in three parts: “Childhood,” “Adult” and “Donor,” though the events within the parts are not always chronological.
The school of Hailsham is initially described as an ideal, almost magical place to live. The children are well-educated and encouraged to follow artistic passions. Kathy talks about how the people she cares for as an adult are usually curious of her life there and wish they had similar experiences in their childhood.
Despite the idealized, romantic qualities of Hailsham, it doesn’t take long to figure out something is not quite right. The school is run by “guardians” who are constantly telling the children they are “special,” and who are extremely careful of their health and well-being while at Hailsham.
The most significant aspect of Kathy’s time at Hailsham seems to be the artwork the students create; they are taught no other significant life skills beyond how to create various works of art and writing, the best of which are taken to the “Gallery” by a woman named Madame, who is, for some reason, disgusted by the children.
It is during Kathy’s days at Hailsham the reader discovers what is really going on with the school and the children, though Kathy says she knew about it ever since she can remember. Usually with books, I can do a pretty good job at guessing twists, but this one really threw me for a loop.
I really hate spoilers in reviews, but this one is so significant it is really impossible to continue talking about the book without mentioning it, so if you don’t want to know, please skip until you see “spoilers complete.”
While the children of Hailsham seem to lead carefree lives, it is revealed throughout the book they will one day be “donors.” That’s as in organ donors, giving away all of their major organs one surgery at a time until they “complete.”
At some period in the future, human cloning processes were discovered, and it was found the clones could be harvested for their essential organs to prolong the lives of “normal” people. Hence, “students,” aka “donors,” like Kathy and her classmates were created. The students know they will initially leave Hailsham to become “carers” for other donors for up to, but often less than, 15 years until they get a notice it is time for their donations to start.
Ruth and Tommy both get their notices before Kathy, and she becomes their “carer” until their completions, despite her and Tommy attempting to get a deferral based on a rumor they could have three years together if they could prove they were in love. The novel ends with Kathy facing the beginning of her donations and her own eventual “completion.”
Spoilers complete. With “Never Let Me Go,” Ishiguro has managed to write a compelling piece of work that delves into serious questions, like what it really means to be human and how we go about facing death. It’s hard to pin down what exactly the genre of this book is; while it has sci-fi qualities, it’s horrifying that Kathy doesn’t seem to find her situation horrifying at all. It also mixes in some coming-of-age elements with Kathy’s realization and acceptance that her eventual manner of demise is inevitable.
While the book is very well done, it also has some serious holes that could have been addressed. For instance, why couldn’t Kathy and Tommy have fled and blended in with everyone else, successfully avoiding their fate? The novel doesn’t describe them as looking different than anyone else, so it seems like it could have been an option.
Despite this and some other minor flaws, the book is well written, thought-provoking and emotionally intense. I highly recommend you pick up this novel and explore what it really means to be human.
Have a book you want to see reviewed or just know a great (or terrible) read? Email Rachel Taylor at email@example.com.