By: Kazuo Ishiguro
Subject Matter: Women; England; Cloning; Organ donors; Donation of organs; Tissues
I’ve been staring at the screen for a while now trying to figure out where to start this review.
It’s been a good while since a book has so thoroughly inundated me with a feeling of sadness, a dull despair described so beautifully in this book by Kathy, the narrator.
But if you only know him from The Remains, then boy oh boy are you in for a shock.
Never Let Me Go has absolutely nothing in common with The Remains of the Day on the surface. And yet. And yet and yet and yet. And yet, after reading them both, I come away with the exact same feeling, a hollow ache for a love that blossoms too late and under all the wrong circumstances. A sadness so repressed that it sometimes makes you want to scream and sob.
And yes, I’ll admit it. I did cry.
Never Let Me Go takes place in a not-so-distant dystopian past. It focuses on a trio of friends growing up together in a world they don’t belong to. The society of this world has perfected human cloning, and it’s no great spoiler to say that the plot revolves heavily around human organ donation.
But it’s not at all like most modern dystopian fiction. There is no young, fierce Katniss or courageous Tris coming to save the day. Instead, Kathy is a quiet, mostly acquiescent girl just trying to get through her time in a world beyond her control without confronting anything too difficult too often.
Aside from the obviously problematic wholesale slaughter of humans, this novel is particularly intriguing in its exploration of what friendship and interdependency can mean. Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy are often intentionally cruel, and everything about their relationship feels like walking on eggshells. And yet they are as close as any friends can hope to be, and their identities depend entirely upon one another. It’s painful.
There’s a poignant and heartbreaking revealing of the depths people will go to to make things right. Of the hope we all build up in our minds and chests, and just how easily these hopes can be shattered wholly with one word or one glance or one touch.
It’s a painful, painful, painfully beautiful novel.
It’s been made into a movie, of course. Starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. I actually saw the movie several years ago, not knowing what it was about, so I knew going into it that this book was going to make me cry. It did not disappoint.
And now I’ve got to go. I’ve got it queued up again on Netflix, with a box of tissues and a bottle of wine at my side.
If you’re an Ishiguro fan, I recommend these books:
(for more by Ishiguro)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
(for eerily relatable despair)
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
(for female characters in dystopian worlds)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
Rose Harbor in Bloom by Debbie Macomber