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Onyx reviews: Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go is narrated by thirty-one-year-old Kathy H., who is preparing
to move from one phase of her life to another. She is a former student of
Hailsham, an elite British countryside school. All their young lives, Hailsham
students were told by their guardians that they are special, and over the course
of the novel readers come to learn what this means. Ishiguro metes out this
information slowly until the full import of their situation is revealed.
The mastery of Never Let Me Go is the way in which Ishiguro's heroine wanders
down memory lane. Hers is not a linear reminiscence. Kath follows threads
through the years, allowing one recollection to lead to another, then rewinds to
pick up the chronology somewhere else. She is a sensitive, careful observer of
her friends and the guardians, often intervening to smooth things over when
conflict arises. That she becomes successful as a carer should come as no
surprise-once readers discover what that term means. Her recollections are
tinged with foreboding. There's a surprise awaiting, but it's not Kath's intent
to hide anything. She's merely remembering as if her audience is already in on
For the Hailsham students have been brought into the world for a purpose-which
will not be revealed in this review. Their futures are preordained. The
guardians don't hide this, but reveal information in a way that dilutes its
impact. The students develop theories and propagate rumors. Their best artwork
is spirited away to a mythical Gallery by a woman they call Madame. They
fantasize about their "possibles" and wonder if their own lives might
follow the same track as these hypothetical people. Students who demonstrate
they are truly in love believe they might get a deferral. They debate among
themselves, but rarely ask the most fundamental question: Must they follow
blindly like sheep the course society has set for them?
A guardian, frustrated at the way the students are "told but not told"
things, tries to set the record straight. They will never run businesses, be
actors, or travel to America. They will never have children. The book is a
coming-of-age story in which the characters can never truly come of age. Normal
people shun them. Some are openly afraid. Many debate whether they are human,
and whether or not they have souls.
The book's bigger concepts are subtly handled through characterization. Kath
remembers mostly ordinary lives punctuated by conundrums for which there are no
answers. Her two closest friends are Ruth and Tommy. Like any group of children
and adolescents, their relationships are uneven, fraught with tiffs,
manipulation, secrets, deceit, reconciliation and antagonism. Once readers
understand what is going on, these conflicts take on layers of poignancy.
After Hailsham, the students move to halfway houses where, for the first time in
their lives, there are no guardians. They are free to explore the world around
them; however, they are hesitant to move beyond their safe havens. Of the many
rumors that pertain to others of their kind, none allude to anyone attempting to
escape his destiny. Sophomoric dramas continue. Kath's relationships with Ruth
and Tommy grow more complex and fractious. Ultimately Kath decides that it's
time to move on-she applies to become a carer. She embraces her future.
The novel's title comes from a song that entrances Kath in her youth, one whose
lyrics she misunderstands and yet, in that misunderstanding, homes in on the
pivotal question of her existence. In the book's present, nearly a dozen years
later, she revisits those old relationships as she becomes a carer in turn to
Ruth and Tommy. In spite of the time that has passed and all that they have
endured, none of them question-they merely accept.
One problem with genre categorization is that it brings certain expectations.
Classifying Never Let Me Go as science fiction conjures images of Star Wars-like
space operas populated by hostile aliens. On the surface the book is a
straightforward reminiscence, yet it uses a familiar backdrop to examine the
conflict between ethics, morality and science. Ishiguro was born in Japan but
raised in England from an early age. This combination of cultural sensibilities
gives rise to a unique viewpoint and narrative approach. Both cultures have
elements of restraint and acceptance. Ishiguro creates a dystopian reality on
the level of Brave New World without making his creation seem hostile or,
indeed, alien. In fact, the impact of Never Let Me Go depends on the book's
society being frighteningly recognizable.
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