It's hard now to remember just how much we knew by then. We certainly knew - though not in any deep sense - that we were different from our guardians, and also from the normal people outside; we perhaps even knew that a long way down the line there were donations waiting for us. But we didn't really know what that meant. If we were keen to avoid certain topics, it was probably more because it embarrased us. We hated the way our guardians, usually so on top of everything, became so awkward whenever we came near this territory. It unnerved us to see them change like that.
I first read this book three years ago, soon after it was first published. I recall being swept away by it in some way, but now that I read it again, I realized that I couldn't remember the details of the plot at all. The atmosphere of the novel is so overwhelming that describing the plot seems less important.
Never Let Me Go is unlike any novel that I have ever read. At first you have no idea what's going on and the story unravels intriguingly slowly, always keeping something secret, hidden and unspoken. The narrator, Kathy H., remembers her childhood, growing up with her best friends, Ruth and Tommy, in a seemingly idyllic boarding school called Hailsham, somewhere in England.
The children are vaguely aware that they are different from "normal people" outside the school and that they have a special purpose in the world after they leave Hailsham. This purpose remains a mystery: a taboo often alluded to, but never quite explained.
Kathy and her fellow students are harvested clones created so
that, as adults, they may donate their vital organs to the rest of the
population. Their teachers, or 'guardians', both fear and pity them, as
the true purpose of their existence is not explained to the children.
The rest of the world sees them as organ factories who are less than
Despite its obvious dystopic and futuristic dimensions, I would not classify Never Let Me Go as a scifi novel. The word 'clone' is not actually mentioned until over half-way through the novel, although by then it is obvious that this is what the main characters are. The small and seemingly insignificant incidents from Kathy's childhood gradually gain new meanings, a new kind of significance.
As they grow up and try to make their way in the world, Kathy and her friends are essentially alone, pawns in a larger social game that they cannot escape from. It does not even occur to them that others might think that they have no souls or that they are incapable of love. Always cut off from the rest of the world, the three children hopelessly try to hold on to their childhood memories and dreams of a "normal" future. Ruth envisions working in a gleaming office one day, while Kathy and Tommy desperately try to seek for a referral to their donations in order to spend a few more years together as a couple.
Never Let Me Go is a heart-wrenching story that will haunt you long after you have finished the book.
The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005 and also won several other awards. A movie based on the novel, also titled Never Let Me Go, is scheduled to be released in 2010.
Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go. Faber and Faber. 2005.
Time review: "Books: Living on Borrowed Time"
The Guardian review: Never Let Me Go
Wikipedia: Never Let Me Go
Wikipedia: Kazuo Ishiguro