Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

TITLE: Never Let Me Go
AUTHOR: Kazuo Ishiguro
YEAR: 2005
LENGTH: 288 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Dystopian, Science Fiction

Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.

NEVER LET ME GO is a quiet and circuitous reminiscence on a life lived which slowly unfurls into descriptions of an inescapable dystopian nightmare, proceeding at the ambling pace of ordinary existence, ending with a whimper. 

As a dystopia it’s quiet, the disturbing details coming in drips and drabs with a sense that Kathy as a narrator assumes the reader knows the system already and so is only paying attention to find out what her place was in it, not to learn what it is altogether. The narrative style meanders in time in order to be mostly clear in thought. It’s not linear, sometimes frustratingly so, but it was usually easy for me to follow because each bit of information is told based on its relevance to some other piece of the past. It has the disconnected quality of a long reminiscence while being generally understandable. 

Several of the characters were pretty unlikeable. I enjoy sometimes reading something where I just hate a main character so I had a good time, but Ruth is a consistently unpleasant person for much of the book, and I wish Tommy had room to be more his own person. That said, in a story about how none of them get to be their own people in a larger sense it works really well, but if you're irritated by it early on you should know it doesn't really get better. 

CW for ableist language, bullying, homophobia (brief), excrement (brief), medical content, violence (brief), discussion of suicide, major character death, death.

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