Artz on Books – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishguro

It took me quite a while to choose my next book. I searched the best-selling on kindle, searched for sci-fi, for fantasy all without really knowing what it was I wanted. Last year I read some Haruki Murakami novels and seems as I enjoyed those, I decided I’d try another one of his. However I found they’re over my “about £4 student budget” and instead I moved onto suggested authors. This is how I stumbled onto Kazuo Ishguro.

Never Let Me Go is Ishguro’s 6th novel and it follows the life of Kathy, and her friends Tommy and Ruth. The first third of the book is set in Hailsham – the school where they all live. Things at Hailsham aren’t always as they seem and we as readers are constantly thrown into pits of uncertainty. Why do the children never speak of their parents? Why are they actively encouraged to create art, which is then taken away from them? Why are they told they can’t have children? Why, when told that they will never be able to become movie stars, or go to America do they just accept it and take it as something they knew, but didn’t know.

Part of the reason for these gaps is the first person narration, but it does feel like Ishguro loves to drown us in detail that while may be world-building or contextually relevant, doesn’t reveal the plot. It isn’t until late in the novel we get hints as to why these children are here, and it does make progress very slow. The whole narrative slowly crawls, yet not necessarily in a bad way. The narrator Kathy ‘talks’ in a very loose way, first telling you about one section, then veering off to another with a throwaway line like “but before I tell you this, I should really tell you this”. The structure of these chapters just doesn’t do it for me and it’s consistently in every chapter.

The novel seems to be tackling many themes, that all centre around the ideas of self-worth, relationships and hope. These are then focused through a science fiction lens when it is revealed the children are clones. This isn’t really explored properly. As the idea of cloning is such a big underlying current, you’d think the writer would want to fully explain and integrate it into his story world. It’s not quite there as many questions about how this idea works aren’t answered. The moral implications are raised, but there seems a significant lack of grounding.

The character aspect is well done. We find out a lot of information about Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, and their interactions feel real. Human interactions seem a strong point for Ishguro, and it is clear at any one time what a character is thinking or feeling. The style of narrative makes it difficult to connect, however, and while this narrative should be quite sad you get caught up a little in the morals of the thing and don’t thoroughly connect with the characters.

While this may be a negative review, I don’t particularly mean it to be. The book was enjoyable and I never felt like I wanted to put it down, or that I completely didn’t care. I was intrigued by the relations between characters, and the social commentary Ishgaro made through characters actions, thoughts and feelings. The writing while perhaps overly-detailed also had some very memorable moments that were heart-felt and pleasant. This is in no way a bad book, it just feels like it needs tightening that little bit more, and the ideas around cloning need establishing.

Review by Rebecca! 


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