Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
What would you do if you had no choice but to die after completing the purpose that you’ve been created for?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber and Faber)
When she was a young girl, Kathy, along with close friends Tommy and Ruth spent most of their childhood years at Hailsham, a private, idyllic English school, where she and all the other children living there were sheltered and isolated from the outside world.

Brought up to believe that the world inside Hailsham was the only world that mattered, they are quick to find out that their well-being is not only of the utmost importance to the guardians of Hailsham, but also  to the world they have to enter once they leave Hailsham.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and Kathy is a 31-year old carer who hasn’t seen her closest Hailsham friends in years. When Tommy and Ruth both enter her life again, all the memories rush to the surface and suddenly Kathy is taken back into time as she recalls all the starkly vivid memories of their years at Hailsham.

As she recounts her tale, she reflects on the sheltered environment that most of the kids were strangely unperturbed about, but at the same time, alludes to hidden and dark secrets that lurk behind the walls of the outwardly safe and protected haven that once was Hailsham.

Now faced with a tragic reality that awaits them, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth have to find what little strength they have to come to terms with the past and the truth about their childhood - in order to accept the heartbreaking events that will rob them of everything they have ever known.

Review:

Kazuo Ishiguro's book as been categorized and described as being many things; one of them being that it's a science fiction novel.

Allow me to immediately dispel this notion and misconception. In my opinion, Never Let Me Go is the furthest from a science fiction book that you can get.

Sure, the book employs science as a backdrop to the novel, but if I had to more accurately describe this novel, I would say that Never Let Me Go is a speculative and dystopian work of fiction that deals with themes of love, loss, life and the importance of having a choice in the world we live in.

Of course, the themes mentioned sound like they are pretty trite things, but the added dystopian factor is what gives this novel its packing punch (and its well-deserved accolades). 

I believe that the common misconception about Never Let Me Go is something that takes the enjoyment away from the novel because many people are disappointed that the novel isn't the kind of science fiction novel they were hoping for.

I won’t lie.

I’ve also seen a lot of one star ratings for this book because not only have people complained about being misled into thinking it’s a sci-fi novel, but many people have also taken issue with the fact that the book’s writing is too simplistic and far too slow of a read.

Here’s my take on it though.

I admit that this is an acquired read, but Never Let Me Go, for all of its simplicity is a beautifully written work of literary fiction that lulls you into thinking that it’s an ordinary novel, and yet, with a few choice words and single events scattered throughout the novel, the book forces you to constantly re-evaluate your opinion as you read.

I think the slow-paced narrative is what makes this such a powerful, moving and altogether heartbreaking novel. The rambling narrative is written in such a way that it feels as if Kathy (who is the narrator of the novel), is directly conversing with you as the reader.

It’s a very effective structure as the deliberate slowness creates a lazy but sinister atmosphere that seduces you into thinking that the world they are living in is idyllic and very safe, and yet, at the same time it leaves you with the lingering sensation that there is something very eerie about the environment that the kids of Hailsham are living in.

I don’t know many authors that have the ability to leave you feeling both complacent and on-edge at the same time, but Kazuo Ishiguro more than manages to do so in Never Let Me Go.

I wish I could go into more detail with the actual plot points of this novel, but to do so would be to spoil the book for you and would mean that I’d be taking away the gut-wrenching and emotional impact that this book will have on you.

What I can say is that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy may have been living in an environment that provided them with safety, shelter and comfort, but the very reasons they are there are sharply contrasted with the very inhumane reality that awaits them.

Between the three of them, Kathy and Tommy are the ones that start questioning how things at Hailsham are being run. There is a curiosity in them that are absent in others, and this, in a sense, gives them a subtle advantage (as far as an advantage in this novel can go) above everyone else.

Ruth tends to be more of an abrasive, brash, bossy and selfishly impulsive character who many will find, is not easy to always like. Yet for all that, her character suits the novel.

What shocked me most about this novel is that when they find out just what they are there for, there is no outrage, shock or devastation. Just a placid acceptance of being born into a world that already has been set out for them.

The stark and almost unemotional tone of this novel reflects their acceptance and makes this all the more of a heart-wrenching read. What also comes across strongly is that they accept this because they don’t know anything else.

Can you imagine living in a world like that?

Never Let Me Go raises a lot of ethical questions about science and the role humans play in trying to master a domain in a field that is perhaps best left undeveloped.

Not only that, it is also a novel that will remind you of your own mortality and once again enforce the idea that the life we live is but finite and that we should take the time to enjoy every single moment that we have.

It’s a powerful novel that has certainly haunted me for weeks and will probably stay with me for years to come. Go out and get it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a book that is really worth reading and will make you think long after you’ve turned the last page.

This book has also been adapted to film. You can find the link to the trailer here. It’s achingly beautiful, but rather spoilery (which is why I didn't embed it here), so I’d suggest you watch it at your own discretion.

Rating: A perfect 5/5 from me.

8 comments:

Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

I really want to read this one before I see the film. It sounds, like you said, an acquired taste, but I really want to read it. I loved Atonement, and a lot of people hated that...that's the best similarity I can think of haha Fab review!

StefanieEmmy said...

Wow, this really sounds great! I never noticed this novel before (and never would have thought it to be sci-fi seeing only the book-cover xD) but it is def. on my wishlist now. :) Hopefully I can read it before seeing the movie :)

Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews) said...

Wonderful, wonderful review! As you know I just loved everything about this one too. I was shocked when I saw those 1-star reviews on Goodreads, but I guess I have to accept that this is a book not everybody is going to love. I think the Science Fiction label hurts it quite a bit.

I recently watched the movie, and really enjoyed it. The book had a far more powerful effect on me though, so I'm glad I read it before seeing the movie.

Jan von Harz said...

Wow, what a fantastic review. I don't remember reading any reviews of this last year and am very intrigued by your discussion of why people might have disliked it due to the sci-fi genre listing. Since I love dystopian novels, I am certainly going to check this out. Thanks for turning me onto this title!

Aisle B said...

This was the icing on the cake and now pixie girl I blame you for my "fib" that I'll have to invent. I want to read this one before I even think of seeing the movie.

Beautiful review again.

Jenny said...

Wow, a perfect 5/5? That means it needs to go on the list immediately. I've heard this one is very emotionally intense and I love those kinds of reads. I'll have to mentally prepare myself for it because I get overwhelmed with books like this really easily, but your review has made me want to move it way up the list. Beautiful, beautiful review Tammy!

Clover said...

What a beautiful review of this book. It stayed with me for such a long time after I read it. I agree with you - for me, it also perfection.

bibliofreak said...

Really enjoyed your review, and glad you enjoyed the novel as much as I did (http://bit.ly/jMaDcG). Ishiguro can be an acquired taste, but when they work for you, his novels are wonderful.