Book Review: Never Let Me Go never lets readers go

By Hoang-Mai Hong

The book The Remains of the Day should ring a few bells for quasi-scholars. We know it’s a classic of sorts as the title trips so easily on the tongue, but when pried for any further info on the book, there is a bit of hesitation. In other words, when asked, “Have you read The Remains of the Day?” many of us will respond, “No, but I’ve heard of it.”

If you’ve read the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro or if you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, good on you. If you haven’t, it’s better late than never, and a good start is to dig into the Japanese-born Englishman’s latest novel, Never Let Me Go. The book makes you want to read his past work, which for many of us was in its heyday before we could actually read.

Never Let Me Go introduces us to Kathy H., a 31-year-old ‘carer.’ The book takes us through her memories, starting at her days at Hailsham, a boarding school encouraging art and creativity and discouraging smoking to a point where books with characters who smoke, like Sherlock Holmes, are banned. The kids are sheltered here and are being prepared for what is described to them as a vicious outside world. Their repression of any feelings at all is creepy at points, and you get the image of blonde and British Children of the Corn, as their teachers, or ‘guardians,’ cringe and are uncomfortable around them. Though the suspense of wondering what the hell is going on is ever present, driven by the innocuous terms these kids use, like ‘career,’ ‘donations,’ ‘completing,’ and ‘students,’ it all takes a backseat to the relationship between the sensible and caring heroine Kathy H. and her friends Ruth, the bossy girl who is committed to fitting in, and Tommy, the angry boy with the good heart. You see them grow up amidst what is gradually revealed as a reality set in a bleak sci-fi future; and the emotions are frighteningly familiar and the outcome heartbreaking.

It’s hard to give any solid synopsis of the story without revealing too much, and the full picture isn’t revealed to us anyway, as we know just as much as Kathy and her friends gradually uncover. If there is any literary point of reference you could relate it to, it’s Lois Lowry’s The Giver, but aimed at an adult audience. Everything is uncertain, storylines trail off and there are holes everywhere, much like actual life. The whole thing seems so very seamless, though, as Ishiguro does a magnificent job of reeling you in, making you care, and moving you.

What makes Never Let Me Go sort of sci-fi is simply the backdrop, though an interesting one, to what is at the core a love story. Despite its heavy aspects, the focus is on the simple story we can understand and identify with. This story keeps us hooked and, when it is finished, causes the cathartic, satisfactory sigh that comes when you finish a damn good book. Never Let Me Go should qualify as another ‘classic’ for Ishiguro.

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