Never Let Me Go
By Kazuo Ishiguro
(Vintage, Paperback, 9781400078776, October 2010, 304pp.)
The Short of It:
Hauntingly sad, poetic and beautiful.
The Rest of It:
*No obvious spoilers.
The story opens with Kathy H., who has been a “carer” for over eleven years. As she tells her story, the reader is taken back in time to her years at Hailsham, a boarding school located in the English countryside where she was friends with Tommy and Ruth. There, they took classes on all sorts of subjects and were told over and over again by their guardians, that they were special.
Yes, they are special. Very special indeed. What the reader figures out pretty early on, is that these children have a special purpose. However, the children do not know exactly what that purpose is. They just know that they are special, and during their time at Hailsham, they are given information to help them understand that purpose, but not in plain words. Not in a way that they would easily understand.
The school experience is like what you’d expect. There are cliques and teachers who test the administration with their actions. Although Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are very close friends, they have their moments, too. As they grow, they begin to realize their purpose and the dawning realization of what they are, creates tension in ways they are not often prepared to deal with.
This entire story is peppered with clinical aspects. Hailsham is very hospital-like and lab tests are the norm. Since these children really don’t know of a life different from their own, they are somewhat happy yet deep down, they yearn for something more. They just don’t know what.
In one sense, Ishiguro’s delivery is cold as ice. Everyone possesses an aloofness that is slightly off-putting. But, there is a tenderness…a softness to the characters that will make your heart ache. These characters yearn for what they don’t have, yet they have resigned themselves to the lives they’ve been given. They will never really love, because to do so, would mean losing it in the end. They can never have children, or get married or live to a ripe, old age. What they have, is the pleasure of knowing that they’ve lived their life for a purpose.
This book reminded me a lot of The Unit, which has the same premise but uses adults instead of children. In a lot of ways, this book was harder to swallow because it dealt with children, yet Ishiguro handles the topic expertly and I found myself thinking about these characters many days after finishing the book. Its coldness melted away and became profoundly touching.
I haven’t seen the movie, but now I really want to. You can view the movie trailer here.
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