It’s difficult to review Kazuo Ishiguro’s strange sixth novel Never Let Me Go without giving away much. To do so would ruin Ishiguro’s goal of withholding the significant premise of the story first all while hooking the readers up. It’s quite a risky move that only a skilled artist can accomplish. The first half of the book is a tasteful tease, where a number of red herrings make the reader ache to find out what’s really going on.
Ishiguro undeniably has the finesse to pull the readers in- slowly but surely- by weaving his words together into an elegant, controlled prose. Its subtlety is both powerful and beautiful enough to reach the deepest trench of the human soul, wherein the novel’s disturbing yet emotional undertones are there to linger for long.
The narrator, Kathy H., now a “carer” at the age of 31, reminisces her childhood days at Hailsham. Her memories centers on her friendships with the manipulative Ruth and short-tempered Tommy as they grew up with others of their age at an exclusive, idyllic boarding school called Hailsham. The adults who looked after the children were called the “guardians”, who did their best to keep the children apart from the outside world and hide the real purpose of their existence. Nevertheless, they educate the children and urged them to take on art as an outlet for their imagination.
They were all caught up in the familiar, mundane happenings at Hailsham. In spite of this, Kathy soon unravelled the strangeness of their boarding school and leisurely realised that Hailsham wasn’t exactly what she had always known. As Kathy looks back to those days, she starts to understand the reason that made the students at the school extraordinary. Although they were once told about their sealed destinies, they never quite understood their real implications.
As Kathy puts the pieces of her past together through her recollections, she begins to figure out the mysteries lurking at Hailsham’s dark corners. In it, the reason the much awaited quarterly Exchanges existed; the reason they’re urged to express themselves artistically through paintings and sculptures; the reason the Sales from the outside world found its way to Hailsham. Bit by bit, they ultimately come to know their irrevocable fate and the identities they have long been searching for the whole time.
The first part of the book intrigued me more or less, but my declining enthusiasm caused me to postpone every chance I got to quickly finish reading it. I admit I had a hard time grasping what was going on or why Kathy kept on looking back at some earlier memories that do not seem to matter to the major premise of the story. What compensated for the slow pace of the story was Ishiguro’s eloquent writing and the manner of which he made Kathy’s character easy to sympathies with. While I initially thought that the protagonist’s recollections were making the book a drag, I came to realize that there existed a profound message and nuances of all sorts hidden underneath Kathy’s poetic narrative. It further escalated as I entered the second half of the book.
Delving deeper into the lives of the protagonists, I was led into a haunting and disturbing world, which I never thought I was already in when I flipped the book’s first pages. Ishiguro treated Kathy’s peculiar memories and imaginings as a matter-of-fact thing. This has fooled me into believing that I already understood the things Kathy was implying at the first half of the story. But these things, when scrutinized and interpreted, would shiver readers as Kathy’s moving words disclose the brutal truth in the latter part.
Never Let Me Go might be a love story on the surface, but its intricacy lies beneath this guise. At its core, the novel questions the issues of free will and self-identity. It also explores the powerful themes of loyalty and loss, as well as hope and tragedy. Although the novel deftly tells the innocent lives of the three friends, it is actually raising provocative questions about the human’s essence into this world. This particular premise is what’s making Never Let Me Go a tragically beautiful read.
“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”
Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Published: 2005, Faber and Faber
Target Audience: Adult
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction