Never Let Me Go is a novel about people living their lives that asks questions about what “people” and “lives” even are. It contains a mystery, a love triangle and elements of dystopian fiction, but it all adds up to something greater – a story that’s genuinely interesting and complex despite its unassuming exterior.
Published in 2005, Never Let Me Go is the sixth novel of acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro. It has enjoyed near-universal critical acclaim since its publication, and a film adaptation of it was released in theaters earlier this month. The story is narrated by a 30-year-old woman who identifies herself as “Kathy H” and details her memories of growing up in a boarding school in England in the late 1990s. She remembers, among other things, her friendship with schoolmates Ruth and Tommy, and their peculiar experiences within and without the walls of their alma mater.
It’s difficult to describe the plot in any detail because of the very nature of the story, which relies heavily on an element of mystery to convey its full effect to the reader.
Through Kathy’s meandering, restrained narration we learn about her life piecemeal, and begin to come to an understanding of her situation at the same time she does. Suffice to say, her England is not exactly England as we know it, nor is her time the 90s as we knew them, and she herself has not lived what we would call a normal life.
This gradual revealing is one of many techniques Ishiguro employs to alter the reader’s perspective throughout the course of the book. Some readers may find these devices manipulative and irritating, but for the most part they are subtle enough to almost go unnoticed. Everything about this book is deceptively simple, right down to the prose style. In the end, though, it shows itself to be a delicate, layered and almost maddeningly precise work of art.
I suppose reading this book takes some kind of patience. It’s not hard to read per se, given its simple language and fluid style, but it is not, by most definitions, action-packed. If you require that a book have “stuff happen” in it, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one to you.
It’s also not a happy book; in fact, it’s almost brutally sad. If, however, you’re tolerant of a slower and more subdued style of storytelling and you like to read things that make you think, this is a novel worth your time.