I sometimes have issues with Kazuo Ishiguro — when I like his work, I love it; when I’m not wooed by the text, I’m thoroughly bored. The Remains of the Day stunningly displays the beauty of his writing, for example, but When We Were Orphans had me snoozing almost as soon as I cracked its spine.
Never Let Me Go certainly falls in the same category as the former, and warrants a special notice for Ishiguro’s ability to create a suspenseful, moody and entirely disturbing narrative. The protagonist is Kathy H., who tells her tale in portions that alternate between her past as a boarding school pupil and her present as a caretaker. As is common with Ishiguro, all is not what it seems.
During her student days at Hailsham, Kathy reveals herself to be more of a passive observer than an active participant; she also reveals to the reader that something is going on with her peers at Hailsham, and here Ishiguro keeps his cards extremely close. He teases with the knowledge that he knows and his audience does not.
While more is disclosed as Kathy grows older, the full extent of the goings-on is never quite divulged. What is known is this: the novel takes place in an alternate, dystopian England (Kathy’s present is the mid-nineties) where some have had themselves cloned to provide a source for organ donation. This fact isn’t hidden from Kathy and her schoolmates, but the details aren’t exactly elaborated upon either. Instead, the Hailsham students are encouraged to pursue their creativity as well as their sexuality; Kathy follows the “one night stand” path, as opposed to the more “steady relationship” sort of route.
There’s so much to Never Let Me Go that I feel necessitates further discussion, but Ishiguro’s story and his delivery of it is a tricky. If anything, it’s almost as though Ishiguro has wrapped the novel in swathes of sheer fabric; as the reader uncovers each layer, the next handful of plot points become visable but impossible to fully discern. What makes the book such a success is — like with Remains of the Day — its tone and the author’s delivery of it. Never Let Me Go deals with some relatively ominous ideas, but Ishiguro allows them to enter his story as more of an indistinct mist as opposed to a dark and heavy cloud. Gloominess permeates the pages, and the ending is not particularly uplifting, but it is one that makes the novel complete. And you’ll have to read it to understand the double meaning of that word. So please do.