Monday, April 25, 2011

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

It's difficult to even know where to start.  There's a lot I want to say, but most of it would be considered spoilers.  As for plot, there's little I can say that's not on the back of the book or in the first few lines of the novel.  Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H., a thirty-one year old carer, and it recounts her youth at Hailsham, a school, and the Cottages, the place she goes to after the school.  The novel is very much about Kathy's relationship with Tommy and Ruth over the years they spend in those places, and the short time they have together when reunited as adults.  It also has a very important speculative element which slowly unveils itself over the course of the novel.

What's odd about this novel for me is how compulsively I read it despite how little I liked the narration.  Kathy is a very awkward story-teller.  She never once lets you forget that she is speaking, often saying things like "And that's why I told you that," "I'm going to talk about this now," "That's why I think that I did that think that I was just talking about," and other such transitions and reflections that interrupt the flow of the thing.  Yet I couldn't put it down, sometimes reading for hours at a time.  I was constantly thinking about it, wishing I could read it.  It made me feel some excitement and tension that actually had my heart racing, though there are never any moments of intense or sudden fear or excitement.  The novel is as calm as can be.

Before I started to read Never Let Me Go, I read some reviews that said that the first two-thirds were very slow (true), but that the end proved it to be a masterpiece.  I'm not sure what is meant by masterpiece and I don't know if I would classify it as such, but it did resonate with me.  I am disturbed by it and will not easily let it go.  But a masterpiece?

It went to a place that I did not expect it to go, though in reflection, that knowledge was building within me throughout, just as it slowly built in Kathy herself.  I saw possibilities that proved themselves, fears that came true, a worrisome anxiety about discussing what would be, just as Kathy did.  Somehow, this awkward narrative built within me to the exploding point, when I was left breathless with the horrors that were so calmly delivered.

This could be our world.  I supposed, then, that Never Let Me Go is a dystopia, though it did not read as such.  It's calmness hid that awareness from me until this moment.  I can still feel it building within me, as though it will not resolve itself for days or years.  Maybe not ever, considering the realities it suggests.

Maybe it is a masterpiece.


  1. I've heard so many good things about this book, I really need to jump on reading it. Particularly since you said the novel is still gnawing at you and probably will for a long time. While I thank you for not including any spoilers here, since I haven't read the book, once I do I'd love to read your full thoughts in all their spoiler-y glory.

  2. I read this book years ago and would LOVE to re-read it if I have the chance. I recently saw the film adaptation which was odd and slightly disappointing, mostly because it leaves out some important elements of the book that let you know what's going on (so for much of it, you're left in the dark if you haven't read the book--although in some ways, I suppose that sensation makes it true to the structure of the book). It's difficult to describe without spoiling the ending, so I'll leave it at what you've already said. It definitely resonated with me as well.

  3. I know what you mean about resonating--I think that this book is a very quiet and soft spoken, modern meditation of a masterpiece.

  4. I wasn't a huge fan of this book, but I think I read it a lot like you did - I couldn't stop reading (I think I finished it in about a day, which is unusual for me) but Kathy's narration drove me nuts. She narrated the way most of us do, when we're telling stories, but I couldn't quite take it over the length of the book. That said, reaching the end and seeing the answers to all those half-asked questions I'd come up with during the reading...that was a good moment, and the contrast between the very calm, matter-of-fact narration and the subject matter was interesting. I still may have to give Ishiguro another try with Remains of the Day.

    -- Ellen