Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve been mulling all things Savidge Reads and blog orientated of late and in doing so, though I haven’t quite finished, have decided that over the forthcoming months much more whim reading and pulling from the shelves and out of the boxes of my mighty TBR is going to be going on. I will still be doing reviews of the latest releases but after my small strop-of-sorts I want to go back to the days when I read what I wanted because I fancied it. ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro was a book that I decided three weeks ago I really fancied reading despite the fact I have struggled with Ishiguro before  and the fact that Granny Savidge simply said ‘well… many people loved it, I wasn’t one’ which actually made me giggle.

I happily admit that before I started ‘Never Let Me Go’ I had absolutely no idea what the plot would be. I have recently given up reading blurbs of books I am imminently due to read (it actually makes the experience all the better – I do of course read them in order to decide I want to read the book in the first place but invariably the book ends up lost somewhere in the TBR pile for a month or twenty four and so I forget). Therefore the story that unfolded before me was one that I could never have guessed and one that had I known too much of what was to come would possibly have ruined the experience so I am going to try and make you read this book without saying too much and being a bit vague, for this is a book that if you haven’t read then you simply must.

Kathy H introduces herself to the reader as a thirty one year old carer and who has been doing this for eleven years as ‘Never Let Me Go’ opens. In fact it is Kathy B’s narration and voice that are part of what makes the book such a success as we learn how she got from her childhood in the grandeur of Hailsham School to where she is now. As we go through this ‘coming of age’ tale with a rather large twist, in fact it’s the twist that made a genre I don’t like (coming of age tales) such a readable book, Kathy H drops little hints to the reader that she and the other children at this school, such as her two closest friends Tommy and Ruth for it is their three stories ad the triangle they create, are quite different from the likes of you and me and ‘where you come from’.

If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.

He manages to write lyrical prose and what you would deem a ‘literary’ novel whilst merging in the speculative and also managing to leave every chapter on a cliff hanger so that you simply have to read on. You will get gripped so maybe try and read this on a very free weekend. Ishiguro also manages to put us inside the heads of all of the three main characters and gives us insight into Ruth and Tommy’s motives only using Kathy’s observations and to me that was a further sign of what a brilliant novel this is. I don’t think I can recommend or rave about it enough. 10/10 (And for a coming of age story to get that from me is quite something. Read it and if you have done so already… read it again, I know I will one day!) 

I mentioned I had struggled with Ishiguro before. It was actually for a book group choice back in the days before blogging and we read ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ I am wondering if the timing was all wrong and I should maybe go back to it sometime as after reading ‘Never Let Me Go’ I can’t understand how I wasn’t bowled over by him before. I shan’t head for that next though, I am already slyly eyeing up ‘A Pale View of Hills’, I could head for his most famous novel ‘Remains of the Day’ but I think I want to read that last. Who else has read ‘Never Let Me Go’ and what did you think? Which other Ishiguro novels have blown you away?

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50 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Faber & Faber, Kazuo Ishiguro, Review

50 responses to “Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. gaskella

    Loved this book – it was masterly and your review captures that perfectly without giving anything away! I really enjoy speculative fiction, and don’t mind coming of age novels either so this appealed to me on all fronts.

    I’ve only read one other Ishiguru and that was ‘Remains of the Day’ – it was brilliant and restrained, and is one of the few books where the film adaptation was as good as the book if not better.

    • I think the fact this book impressed me so much and yet was almost everything I don’t normally love made it all the better for me, and taught me I need to push my reading boundaries more because look at the gems you can find.

      Remains of the Day might be the Ishiguro that I leave till last with my save a great one till the end theory.

  2. I loved loved loved this book but the shop assistant I brought it from hated it LOL I do own A plae view of the hills and have read recently his short story collection but I dont think his style worked as well in a short story format (but then I dont read many short stories so could be the wrong person to judge)

  3. I loved this book so much. Ishiguro has a very mild, understated way of writing, and he gently leads you by the hand to a shattering ending.

    This book haunted my thoughts for a long time.

    I must say though that I just could not get through An Artist…It too was a beautifully written book, but somehow I think I got sidetracked by some other book and left it aside. I should try to go back to it again.

    Are you planning to see the movie of this book when it comes out?

    • I can completely get why you would be haunted by this it does really linger with you and make you think. I foudn An Artist really hard to finish, but would like to give it another crack when I have read a few more of her books.

      I will most definitely be seeing the film, though it will have to be amazing to touch the book in any way.

  4. I read Never Let Me Go and liked it. Many people did not like the book because they did not appreciate the narrator’s rather flat tone and her acceptance of her situation. For me, that was what made the book outstanding. Ishiguro imagines the emotional life of someone raised as Kathy was and with her expectations.

    I was also impressed by the way Ishiguro handled the moral implications of the society in which all this is happening. The people who benefit from the system (trying not to write any spoilers here) do not want to question it, just get on with it. Rather like slavery.

    • I think Granny Savidge Reads might have had an issue with this book for the narration reason you stated. She normally loves Ishiguro and really didnt care for this one which surprised me as its brilliant.

  5. Sorry, but I have to cast my lot in with your granny. The characters’ situations were poignant yes, and I do understand that sometimes understatement can enhance the tragic impact of a situation, but I just found this a little… watery. Enjoyed your review though – and am glad I managed to finally locate the comments button on your blog (hurrah for the cat and her invaluable assistance.)

    • Hahaha I love the fact the cat helped with you finding the comments, thats brilliant! Sorry you didnt love this one, interesting you say it was watery my Gran found it dry I believe.

  6. I loved this book as well. And the beauty of the reading experience was not knowing what was going on, and it being revealed so very gently and subtly. Unfortunately, with the movie out, I fear all of that could be spoiled. I haven’t read anything else by the author, but I do have Remains of the Day on my shelves.

    BTW, my goal for 2011 is to read what I fancy!

    • Yes this is a book, like many, where if you know whats coming then you loose out on something which of course makes writing about it a bit of a bugger!

      Great goal for 2011, mine is going to be exactly the same.

  7. Deb

    I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but the problem I had with NEVER LET ME GO is why would the characters be at a place like Hailsham School in the first place? It makes no sense in the context of the book. In light of why they are ultimately existing at all, why would they be educated at a posh school. Something must have gone over my head.

    • Miss Emily gives the explanation at the end of the book.

    • Tamsyn

      I thought that actually, it wasn’t that posh. I mean, I know the school physically looked posh, but Kathy reflects that a lot of the things they owned and the resources used in classes were “junk” and probably belonged to other people before they wound up at Hailsham.

  8. I’ve read and reviewed i(March 2010) Remains of the Day which I loved. Absolutely adored. I found Never let me go very hard going and after the first book I was so very disappointed!

  9. gracenotes34

    Ive just finished When We Were Orphans – which I cant recommend enough – fantastic imagination and very moving – I’ll need to wait a bit now (dont like to read two novels by same author back-to-back – seems to dilute both experiences??) but will be getting Never Let Me Go.

    • I know nothing about When We Were Orphans but that praise is enough to make me want a copy!

      I do the exact same thing with authors, if I love one book my mind says ‘read another now’ and the rest of me resists.

  10. Bet

    I loved this book and add me to the list of folks who say that not knowing what it was about and figuring it out as the story went along was… WOW! In that sense, I think it is one of the cleverest (is that a word?) and most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read.

    I read Remains of the Day years ago and loved it and the movie. I hope to read more Ishiguro soon.

  11. ‘Never Let Me Go’ isn’t my favourite book by Ishiguro (partly because it didn’t surprise me – I had read a Japanese manga that was slightly similar) but I absolutely loved ‘Remains of the Day’. I’ve ‘A Pale View of Hills’ on my TBR which I’m hoping to read by the end of the year. I’m a bit jealous that you’ve decided to read on a whim. I miss those days.

    • Ahhhh I wonder if the manga inspired this book or the other waty around?

      Loving reading on a whim, the pressure free aspects of it is amazing and it was perfectly timed what with all thats going on at the moment.

  12. I’m pleased you liked it, Simon, but I was really unimpressed! This is my first – and only – Ishiguro, and I’d heard he was such a great prose stylist. However, I found Never Let Me Go the most incredibly bland book, in terms of style. Horses for courses!

    • I think the blandness might actually have been intentional, thats my honest opinion am not just making excuses. I think his other books have a very different narrative, though I wouldnt recommend An Artist of the Floating World as your next choice if you wanted to give him another whirl.

      • Tamsyn

        I agree that the blandness is intentional – it’s what makes Kathy a unique character. She represses her feelings constantly, while Tommy has his temper tantrums. Kathy has no real way of letting go or expressing herself. It’s almost as though they don’t know how to do that because the institutionalised upbringing that they’ve had.

        Also, I read the book as someone who knew what was going to happen (I’m studying it for my English Lit A-level and read a plot synopsis before buying it to make sure it was something I wanted to write an essay about). I don’t think that affected the poignancy of the novel in any way for me though. It still made my cry SO badly! It was heart-wrenching! And I did also read Remains of the Day and loved it.

        What I would like to know is, does anyone know Ishiguro’s motivation for writing Never Let Me Go? Does anyone have any ideas what his “message” was? I’ve read the novel three times, and I’ve read countless reviews, but it seems very much a personal thing. As far as I can see, different people seem to have different opinions.

  13. Doulton

    Nobody does emotional repression like Ishiguro! I would encourage your to read Remains of the Day for the humor and the restraint of the humor. It’s hardly slapstick, but I would challenge you to contemplate Stevens’s attempt to banter without feeling at least a little bit of love for him.

    • Thats what I wanted to say to Simon T and didnt put so eloquently the narrative voice in this novel is designed to be filled with repression. I guess its one of those narrations that you either love or you dont.

  14. I have just finished reading this one myself Simon. Ishiguro is a real hit and miss author for me – I loved The Remains of The Day but really didn’t enjoy his latest book, Nocturnes. I just found the point of view that Never Let Me Go was written from was too distancing from me – I’m sure that was partly the whole point but I’m afraid I missed it!!

    • Oh how bizarre we were reading this at almost the same time, thats been happening a lot with me lately and all unintentionally. I can see why the narrative in this book makes people feel slightly distanced and think it was intentional but maybe its a trick that simply doesnt work for everyone.

  15. I only just picked up Ishiguro this summer after everybody raving about him! Funny fact: the more people tell me I should read something, the less I am generally inclined to do so. I’m a difficult reader at times!

    I picked up The Remains of the Day first, and absolutely loved it. It’s beautifully done, the whole tone is completely in keeping with the protagonist’s character and it’s just funny and sad in this really muted way.

    I’d definitely read more, and it will probably be Never Let Me Go as it’s the only other Ishiguro which lives in this house at present!

    • I think we all have moments where we are told we simply have to read something and then we suddenly dont want to so much, I know I do.

      I must turn to Remains of the Day at some point, I am just wondering if maybe it should be the one that I savour till last.

  16. It’s iteresring that you stress how much you usually dislike ‘coming-of-age’ novels as Jane Eyre is also a Bildungsroman & both it & now this have been such highlights for you recently.

    Must, must, must read this myself.

  17. Michelle

    I’ve only JUST finished this book not too long ago, and frankly, it’s one of Ishiguro’s better work, in my opinion. Absolutely loved the story, and the way he told it. Glad you loved it too. =)

  18. My daughter gave up on Never Let Me Go and that was good enough for me so I never picked it up. Now, thanks to you, I might give it a whirl. Thanks.

    • Isn’t it funny how some people read a book cant do it and so we give up, I have just given loads of books I have given up on to my Mum and Gran and both are succeeding with them admirably.

  19. novelinsights

    You are making me want to revisit Ishiguro now, I’m intrigued by this!

  20. Simon, I picked up this book at the library today solely on your recommendation. I, too, knew nothing about the plot. I knew the movie was coming out though, and therefore spoilers would be hard to avoid.

    I read it in one sitting this afternoon/evening. Wow. What a thought- and discussion-provoking book!

    Re: spoilers – I have two huge problems but will try to be subtle with my questions:

    Did they really not know what their title meant?
    And when they did learn, why did they, as SilverSeason says of Kathy, “just accept (their) situation”?

    • Hoorah am so pleased you enjoyed a book I recommended, that always makes me feel most pleased. It is the sort of book you can just loose an afternoon and evening in, I know I did.

      I dont think they did know what their title meant… at first. They learnt at the meeting with the two women at the end, I hope thats not giving anything away?

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  22. Just seen the link to this review in your bookish bits post, Simon. I have seen loads of reviews for this book recently (probably due to the film coming out) but your review has persuaded me to pick it up off my shelf RIGHT NOW! 🙂

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  25. This is a brilliant book and I’d never have read it without your recommendation as I’ve not enjoyed the two (or three?) of his I’ve read before. Superb. Thanks.

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