Brutally Honest: My Thoughts On ‘Never Let Me Go’

With a hefty first term of uni done and dusted, novels and plays put away to gather dust for the Christmas Holidays, my eyes caught the spine of something else on my rickety shelves. It was a book that I had been given a while ago and yet had never opened. Until now, and I was surprised by how much I wanted to grab my laptop and produce a word vomit on every single thought I had. Ishiguro, I had decided, certainly hit the nail on the head with this one. One of the elements that makes dystopian fiction so profound, in my opinion and the element that has often drawn me towards such a genre, is the pure brutal honestly it offers. The intense feelings that surge through you when you’re half way through the book and the realisation hits you like a battering ram, just as the author intended. All the air in your chest escapes with a whoosh, leaving you breathless with the weight of such concepts pressing deep into your bones. Books always make me think about the themes they portray, but never have I pondered over one as much as I did with ‘Never Let Me Go’.

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My feelings about the novel progressed as the story did; as I neared the end of the first chapter I thought this was a love story featuring unfortunate characters. However, as I flipped the last page of the novel it struck me how Ishiguro has created a literary masterpiece that focused on the painful nature of love and life, one we often do not stop to comprehend. I believe that loss makes an individual stronger, that love manifests and reincarnates itself so human kind never has to feel its absence. As a reader with such beliefs, I found Ishiguro’s concept, that love once lost is unrecoverable, rather taxing to deal with. Upon the climax of this book I came to the conclusion that Ishiguro, as a writer, is all too aware of the brittle human essence.

What makes this book so utterly enticing, whilst also being so macabre, is Ishiguro’s use of narrative techniques, which consist of simplicity in tone and flash forwards so subtle I often missed them on occasion if I wasn’t being careful. Such made me ache with the curiosity about what had already happened and what was to come. ‘Never Let Me Go’ explores the advances in medicine regarding enhancement of genetic characteristics and how it subsequently leads to an alienation of individuals based on those particular characteristics. Additionally, what made this novel really stand out for me was the manner in which Kazuo Ishiguro tackled racism. The people who were being racially discriminated against were in fact, ironically enough, clones of those attacking them.

‘Never Let Me Go’ is the story of Tommy, Kathy and Ruth, and like most teenagers, they develop romantic feelings for each other very early on in the novel. Hailsham houses these test-tube babies, genetically engineered for purposes that slowly become clearer in the novel, much to the reader’s horror. From very early on in the novel I could sense that there was something different about these children; devoid of surnames, parents and futures of their own. A sinister blanket is lifted when we are made aware of their true purpose; they are born and bred purely for the purpose of being organ donors. It’s what they were ‘created’ to do. Kathy, the narrator of this macabre tale, focuses primarily on Tommy and Ruth. The bonds of loyalty, love and allegiance that bind them together, the binds that give this book its title, are strengthened and tightened as the novel progresses. This is also true for the relationship between the reader and the characters.

A clever mix of suspense and curiosity kept the subject matter at bay, as I refused to deal with the awful, grim truth of it all. That was until I read the words “It’s horror movie stuff” by Kathy and soon it is almost impossible to detach oneself from the pain and the horrors that these characters face. Their fates, which none of them attempt to fight, accepting it as a norm, renders the novel more exciting, suspense and riveting scenes weaved into it’s intricate web.

As I read on, I was rendered rather speechless by the themes of betrayal explored in this book. Often, it can be agreed, that we know not why we commit those betrayals against those we know, whether we love them or not. It is usually after, I learnt from Ishiguro’s writings, that we begin to understand the reasons why. Another aspect that I found hard to come to terms was the illustration of the relationship between illness, love and sex. As humans, I believe, we all like to think that sex is an expression of love in its purest, most intimate form, possessing healing powers that one may not be able to fully explain. ‘Never Let Me Go’ questions this concept at its very foundations, and I may be so bold to say that, as humans, we find this very difficult to comprehend.

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There was absolutely nothing in this book that I can honestly say was easy to digest, even while written in the simplest of narratives. That is, however, why I believe this novel leaves such an incredibly profound impact on the reader. The novel explores themes of the erosion of hope, the utter repression of what an individual knows to be true and the seeds of doubt that have been planted into every soul. Near the end I must admit I did not how to quite comprehend the gravity of what had taken place. Running, dancing, taking drugs, having sex, falling in love, all these things would make people feel alive and that is exactly what the we want to do. To feel alive and reassure ourselves of our existence in ways that Tommy, Ruth and Kathy could not. Kazuo Ishiguro has made me question things I know to be true and through his literary brilliance he delivers the haunting truth about the fragility of life and love. As I turned over the last page, my fingers ached to thumb my way back to the very start and read it all over again. It’s just that good!

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