Friday, October 6, 2017

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary: As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Summary and image from

Review: Some books you pick up because of the cover (don’t lie), some because the summary grabs you, some because your favorite author wrote it, so it must be good, and some, some you pick up because you see the title on so many book lists you just cave and decide it’s time to increase your cultural literacy. I don’t think that it matters why you pick up a book, what matters is whether you get anything from the consumption of it. Some of the books that have come to mean the most to me are books I read out of an overdeveloped sense of duty.

Never Let Me Go is one of those books I saw too many times on too many lists, and I finally decided it was time. I knew there was some sort of twist, something not right, but I didn’t know what, and it kept me guessing for a serious portion of the book. In a way, I liked not knowing, because I felt as clueless as the students at Hailsham for what was to come, but on the flip side, once the big reveal happened, I felt slightly let down. Which, surprisingly, pretty much mirrors how I felt about the novel in general. There were parts of the novel I absolutely loved. There were parts I truly disliked. But either way, there wasn’t one part of the novel that left me ambivalent. 

Let’s start with what I loved. Oh, my word, the writing is exquisite. I can’t even pinpoint why it’s so beautiful, but Ishiguro is a master wordsmith. I felt transported to Hailsham, to the convalescent home, to the meadow — the words and the sentences were so beautiful I couldn’t bear to stop reading. Somehow, it created this timeless quality to the novel that made me understand why it’s on so many “Top Books” lists. Simply beautiful.

The simplicity of the story, the reconciliation of Kathy’s past and future, were seamlessly worked throughout the narrative, flashing back or moving forward at the appropriate time. Again, this leant itself to the timeless feeling — I wasn’t sure if what I was supposed to be reading was a present day retelling, or took place in the far future. Either way, I didn’t care. It worked regardless of when it happened.

There were, however, parts of the book that I found truly polarizing, and that overall detracted from the beauty so much that it became a distraction. Not only did I find Ruth, the Queen Bee and oddly, the main character of the story even though Kath is our narrator,  to be wholly despicable, I found Ishiguro’s constant and unrelenting harping on sex and pornography grating. Not only was it vastly unnecessary, it was so prevalent it was like beating a dead horse.  Worse, after our characters had reached adulthood and gained some maturity, heading into their Reasons for Living, the incessant obsession and yammering about their escapades didn’t cease. I saw no purpose to it, and it ruined what otherwise could have been a truly incredible novel. 

I would have preferred to see more exploration into the philosophy of Hailsham and the students’ lives, where instead the reader is only given a paragraph or two of rushed, dismissive explanation. It is what it is seems to have been enough of an explanation for the author, and the reader is expected to be satisfied. I wasn’t.

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: So much sex. So much. Ugh.

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