Published by Vintage on 2005
Genres: Fiction, Speculative Fiction
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!