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Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy is a thirty one year old woman telling the story of her strange life as it nears its end. At first there is something unaccountably odd about her voice as she describes her childhood growing up at Hailsham, which in many ways sounds like an idyllic boarding school. But with the realisation of the true purpose and scope of their lives, comes an understanding of Kathy and of the young men and women who she describes. Ishiguro captures with admirable delicacy the personality traits of people that have never had the opportunity to encounter and engage with the real world, whose development has been stunted and who have learned their behaviour from watching TV shows.

At first the characters seem implausibly well-behaved. Even given their training and isolation, is it likely that these kids would never smoke or binge because they were forbidden? And when, let out at sixteen, would they tamely follow a prescribed future as if on tramlines? They are polite, punctual, obedient, brain-washable young men and women, that strain to do their essays and their art work, aim to please, yearn for praise, never swear and put their toys away in their little chests under their beds. Or is it that their clear purpose in life and prescribed future, like many rigorous belief systems, makes them conveniently pliable?

Putting aside the improbability of the whole concept of the novel, Ishiguro’s book works brilliantly as an exploration of what it means to be human. Throughout history, terrible things have been done in the belief that a race or class of people are less than human and can justifiably be treated like animals. Despite being ‘farmed’, the men and women Kathy describes display very human emotions, including love and jealousy, as well as their touching and authentic need to know their own origins.

At a time when the possibilities of science seem infinite, the novel questions the extent to which societies are willing to deceive themselves and exploit others for their own ends and who, ultimately, will be responsible for arbitrating and upholding what is right.

Ishuguro never slows the pace of his novel by using three syllables where one will do, tension builds imperceptibly to a very elegant crescendo, and he spares the reader nothing of pity or reproach. NEVER LET ME GO is a subtly sinister yet moving and thought-provoking novel.

Paula McMaster

Published by Faber & Faber, 304pp.

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