I don’t know if I can read any more books by Kazuo Ishiguro, because his stories make my heart hurt. I’ve been thinking about Never Let Me Go for days, and suspect I’ll be thinking about the questions this story raises for a long time to come.
Never Let Me Go made me want to howl for Kazuo Ishiguro’s characters, not just little sniffles or hiccups, but the kind where you throw your head back and just let it all out, loud howls of pure pain. I’m not sure I can take any more, although I’m not sure I can live knowing that there are other books this author has written that I haven’t read either.
The Remains of the Day by this author is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story left me questioning the balance of importance that I give to work and family, and forming vague intentions to work less and laugh more. (I haven’t achieved this yet. The current plan is to work hard now so I can laugh more later). Then I read Nocturnes, a collection of short stories. I wasn’t left with any lasting impressions other than that I enjoyed the stories while I was reading them.
If you plan to read Kazo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, then don’t read any more of my review. This is a book which is best read without any foreknowledge. Don’t even read the blurb on the back cover. Just pick it up and start reading.
For the rest of you, Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H, who starts telling the story when she is 31. Kathy’s story is entwined with the stories of her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. The three have known each other all their lives, having grown up together at Hailsham, a home for children in an alternate version of England in the 1990’s. (Here we go again, my favourite genre; alternate reality).
At 31, Kathy is a ‘carer,’ who is to become a ‘donor’ at an unknown time in her future. What being a carer or a donor consists of is a mystery, until the realisation eventually dawns on the reader. For me, this was around half way through the book. The characters in this book are always aware of their destiny, because the staff at Hailsham tell the children what their futures will consist of, albeit when they are slightly too young to understand the information. Kazuo Ishiguro does this to his readers too. The information is there, from the very first page, but the reader doesn’t have the ability to understand what is going on until they are ready to put it all together for themselves.
Kathy starts telling her story from when she and her friend Ruth were best friends at the age of 14. At the same time, Tommy was being bullied by his peers. From the beginning, Kathy tries to give Tommy the tools he needs emotionally to stop the bullying and eventually, he breaks away from being a victim. Tommy is always a good person, and I desperately wanted him to be cared for and loved and treated well. Ruth, on the other hand, was manipulative and often mean. Somehow though, Ruth and Tommy ended up as a couple when they were older teenagers and Kathy as a friend to both.
The students at Hailsham don’t have parents, or family. They are cared for and taught by staff who have created what they believe is an idyllic world for their students. When they are old enough, the students leave Hailsham for another protected environment, where they are free to have relationships (with others of their kind) and see a bit of the world before they become carers.
Not knowing what is going on, and suspecting the worst (and all of my suspicions were correct) was horrifying and nightmarish. It was almost better to find out the worst, although now I’m left with all of these questions about morals and ethics and what I would do if I needed something a donor has, either for myself or for someone I loved.
I can’t understand why none of the characters tried to escape their futures? What they are can’t be determined by appearances, visually they blend in with ‘ordinary’ people. They never even question the fairness of what will happen to them. Kathy and Tommy question their future eventually, but only up to a point. They understand they are different and accept their fate completely.
I didn’t want Never Let Me Go to end, because I wanted to continue hoping that the characters would get the opportunity to live their lives fully. I wanted a community for them, family, babies, and freedom. However, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were blessed by their love and friendship with each other and in many ways, by their sense of purpose and I suspect this is why I cared for them so much.