Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Posted May 8, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 35 Comments

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published by Vintage on 2005
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Giveaway / Gift

Growing up at an English residential school called Hailsham, Kathy and her classmates are told that they’re special, that they will have an important role to play later in life. However, dark rumors and half-understood offhand remarks lurk beneath the surface of their idyllic childhood. As Kathy, her friends Ruth and Tommy, and the rest of the ubiquitous cliques grow up in their sheltered environment, the prospect of the “donations” they will someday face is always faintly present in the background of their lessons.

Now an adult, reunited with Tommy and Ruth many years after leaving school, Kathy reflects on their time at Hailsham. She remembers the odd incidents, complex childhood politics, friendships and rivalries, and questions about their future and the importance of the art the students constantly create. Knowing, now, the truth about what awaits the students after they leave the school, she questions the way they were brought up: the withholding of information and the subtle allusions.

This is a difficult book to review without giving away spoilers, but I’ll do my best! In a similar vein to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Sparrow, it’s a kind of literary sci-fi/dystopian novel; it takes place in a world we can recognize as our own, but there are some notable differences, which I won’t give away. I thought the way Ishiguro presents this society is brilliant; Never Let Me Go is written from Kathy’s perspective, as though she’s telling the story or writing it in a diary. Because she’s telling her story to contemporaries, she doesn’t explain the cultural context of her situation (until the very end of the novel, that is). She refers to donations, carers, and guardians as if the reader knows what they are because a contemporary hearing her story WOULD know what they are. This can be a bit frustrating at times, since Kathy assumes you know what she’s talking about without explaining it, but I thought this technique worked well for the novel. And, in the end, the information the reader craves is revealed.

Ishiguro also does a great job portraying friendships and the subtle dynamics of school cliques. The main characters felt fully realized, and it was interesting to see them grow from small children to adults facing some really serious life events.

I’m sorry this review is so vague! I’m trying not to give away anything that isn’t revealed in the book’s cover copy, but that means I can’t talk about something that is REALLY central to the entire book. Is it enough to say that this is a really powerful, thought-provoking book that has stuck with me since I read it a month ago? It’ll have to be, because that’s all I can really say. Ha!

  • I love this story, it almost brought me to tears. I thought The Handmaid’s Tale was great, but I’ve never heard of The Sparrow. I’ll definitely check it out.

    • You should! I was surprised by how much I liked The Sparrow, because the premise is outside my comfort zone.

  • This has been on my to-read list for quite a long time – I’m not sure how I’ve still not read it actually!

    • Get to it, man!

  • I really loved this book. and yes, it is hard to talk about without giving anything away. Have you seen the film? I haven’t. I can’t imagine it will measure up.

    • I haven’t read the book, but I very much enjoyed the film.

    • I haven’t seen the film either, but I’ve heard it’s good.

  • This one is *really* hard to review without spoilers. Heh.

  • I adored this book and I actually think you’ve done a great job of reviewing it and retaining the mystery. Have you seen the movie adaptation? I have it, but have put off watching it because I have such an image of all the characters in my head!

    • Thanks! I haven’t seen the movie, either. I’m always hesitant about movie adaptations, but a lot of people are recommending this one!

  • Vague reviews are the best most of the time, because it means the book was so wonderful you cannot describe it accurately. Awful novels are always easier to describe. This one has been on my TBR for so long!

    • Ha! Sometimes I have trouble writing about novels I didn’t like because it can be hard to separate whether it’s actually bad, or if it just wasn’t to my taste. I hope you enjoy this book when you read it!

  • Your review leaves me feeling very intrigued…

  • I absolutely love this book! I actually read it after seeing the movie, as I hadn’t known it was based on anything. The movie does a great job too, you should check it out if you haven’t already!

    • A lot of people are recommending the movie, so I think I’ll have to seek it out!

  • It was a stunning book and I agree it’s very hard to write about it without revealing anything. And I still love the term speculative fiction for these types of books! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

    • That is a great term! I don’t know how I didn’t think to use it 😛

      • I didn’t really know what it was until I was reading Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and I read a great article about the term and was like OMG YES!

  • it was really one of the best books i’ve read this year. he writes emotion so well.

    • He really does!

  • great review. definitely going to read it 🙂

    • I hope you enjoy it!

  • This is a great review and you’re right, you really have to be vague with this one or you give too much away. You captured what’s so great about it, though! Glad you enjoyed it. I did, too.

    • Thanks! Such a good book 🙂

  • I really loved this book! It’s hard to talk about without getting spoilery but SO GOOD.

  • You’ve made it sound quite intriguing. I’ve had it on my shelf for at least two years…I will have to bump it up on my watch list…I’m trying to read almost solely from my TBR list this summer.

    • That’s an awesome goal! I keep meaning to read more from my TBR, but there are too many pretty new books that I want to read!

  • I remember telling my friend that I just started reading this book, and she said, oh they are c***** right? I was like, NOOOO you just spoiled the entire book for me 🙁 But I finished reading it nevertheless, it was a great book!

  • I knew soooo too much about this book going in, and it totally killed the reading experience. While I didn’t have any luck with it, I’m really excited to try The Remains of the Day.

  • I think it’s best to go into this book with no clue. I liked the movie as well, for what it’s worth.

  • I thought you did a great job of describing the book without spoiling it. I was spoiled before I read it, and it hurt the book.