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on 16 March 2006
Never Let Me Go is in some ways more straightforward than most of Kazuo Ishiguro's novels, and more fully comprehensible than any since his masterpiece The Remains of the Day. And yet there is still enough lightness of detail and wealth of moral ambiguity to justify much strokey-chin thought after the last page has been closed, and even to warrant an early re-read.
The setting of the book is "England, late 1990s," but not as we know it. We can tell this even from the limited narrative offered by Kathy, who tells us very little of the real world outside her immediate (and past) environs. There are words dropped innocently but sinisterly: donations, carers, completing, none of which have the meanings we understand. Kathy was a student at Hailsham, a residential institution for children which educated them and encouraged creative expression, but was not quite a school... They are being prepared for lives as 'carers' and 'donors', and they are a form of experiment made possible by advances in technology which, in this parallel world, came in the 1950s but which we are only seeing now.
To say more than this would ruin the story, as there are two mighty coups of revelation delivered about a quarter and halfway through the book, which resonate through the rest of the story and are quite impossible to free from your mind. The impression I get, however, is that Ishiguro is less interested in the sci-fi aspect of this than in using it as an allegory for us all, the stunted limitations of many of our lives, and our blithe acceptance of our ultimate fate.
Although the book has much to say, occasionally - even for this Ishiguro-lover - the saying was a little too restrained, and I was left feeling I had missed something important - why were Tommy's temper tantrums relevant? What about this, or that, or the other, interminable description of a tiny unimportant incident? For that reason I would suggest that Never Let Me Go is not ideal for newcomers to Ishiguro's work, who should begin with The Remains of the Day. Nonetheless, here Ishiguro has delivered another reliably fine confection, perhaps without the pixel-perfect wondrousness of The Remains of the Day, or the mad beauty of The Unconsoled, but with more accessibility than any of his other books and, despite the unruffled surface, a cast iron certainty to perform open heart surgery on any reader who's got one to give.
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on 1 August 2007
I found this book deeply disturbing and was unsettled for a long time after reading this novel.

The story concerns a group of children who appear to live an idyllic life in school in the country, but an evil fate awaits them the implications of which slowly become clear.

I am very enthusiastic about Ishiguro's prose style, he writes simply and boldly, and the result is not stark but rather beautiful storytelling; each paragraph has an intensity worth savouring. The horror of their situation is revealed calmly, without any fuss or melodrama. The characters have only the language of euphemism to describe the fate which awaits them, and this helps keep the dreadful fate awaiting them a secret. I don't wish to spoil the surprise, by telling anything more explicitly, but suffice to say this is a story of a whole society's evil being visited on a group of people, and how the victims cope or don't.

I recommend this story whole-heartedly.
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on 5 September 2006
First off, let's get this out of the way: this is NOT a book about the ethics of human cloning; nor is it (in any conventional sense) "Science Fiction". Not that there is anything wrong with Sci-Fi: I've read and enjoyed a lot of it over the years. However, this definitely isn't it - it has much more in common with Kafka than with Philip K. Dick.

Ishiguro's tale is both moving and sinister from the start, and gets increasingly so as it goes on. In a darkly dreamlike Parallel England, a self-styled "ex-student" at what initially seems to be a boarding school deep in the country is recounting (in a deliberately flat, almost Enid-Blytonesque style) the childhood experiences of herself and her best friends. However, Ishiguro makes it abundantly clear from the first couple of pages onwards that all of the "students" are destined for a sticky end: indeed, one of the main points of the book is that the students are fully aware of their eventual fate even from a young age. They understand this information on a factual level, and even make crude jokes about it, but they have never properly internalised the full implications. For this reason among others, they passively accept the inhuman horror that awaits them.

For me, Ishiguro clearly intends the book as a sort of dream-parable to say various things about the human condition in general. Firstly, if we grow up with a horror (nuclear weapons, say, or Third World poverty - Ishiguro silently invites the reader to make his or her own list), then human nature is to take it for granted as an immutable Fact of Life and just accept it. The eventual fate of the Hailsham "students" is one that no sane person could possibly endorse: and that's exactly the point. (There's no "Ethics of Cloning" debate here - it's surely an open and shut case - and Ishiguro deliberately leaves the science of what is going on very sketchy.)

Many aspects of Kathy's tale are true for all of us. Like her contemporaries at Hailsham, we all know that we will inevitably die one day, and nothing - not True Love, High Art or whatever - will make one blind bit of difference. What, then, is the point of it all? Ishiguro's answer is initially a surprising one: "the little things" - the small change of human friendships and kindnesses; a favourite T-shirt; a "special" song off a second-hand cassette. This is what ultimately makes Kathy's tale so heartbreaking, and what makes the book ring so true emotionally.

At a key point in her childhood, Kathy describes a chilling realisation about one of the teachers or "guardians" as being like "seeing something strange and unexpected in the corner of a mirror you walk past every day" (I don't have the book to hand at present, so apologies if this isn't quite word-for-word.) This could well stand as a superscription to all of Ishiguro's fiction from "A Pale View of Hills" onwards, but is particularly appropriate as regards this unique and extremely unsettling book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 December 2005
When my book group picked this book, I was very very leery. I had previously read, and been wholly unimpressed with "When We Were Orphans" and had no desire to give Ishigiro another go. Fortunately I overcame my skepticism, and about a week before our meeting I finally opened the book. From almost the first page I was enthralled and completely under the spell of the prose. I'm not generally a fan of highly mannered writing, I tend to prefer a little razzle-dazzle, a little style, but the precise and pitch-perfect narration sucked me under like a riptide. It is the best novel about nostalgia and memory I have ever read, and at the same time, it is a brilliant science fiction tale. Like all science fiction, the story has its own mysterious vocabulary, but it is told without the genre trappings that ghettoize science fiction. Ishigiro sets his story in a recognizable  mid-1990s Britain but with a significant and sinister difference. And like the best science fiction writers, he does not attempt to explain why this difference exists, or how it came into being, or how the technicalities of it work, he simply presents it as a given and lets his characters loose. Those who demand explanations and internal historical rationales for it are going to be disappointed, and are, moreover, missing the point of the book.
From the very begriming, 31-year-old narrator Kathy sets a subtly ominous tone by telling the reader she has been a "carer" for over a decade and that the authorities are pleased with her. It's a short step from this to "donors" and "recovery times" and other intriguing tidbits that announce we are in a slightly different world. The three central characters are Kathy, her best friend Ruth, and Ruth's boyfriend Tommy, all students at Hailsham, some kind of elite boarding school in the English country. Told in the manner of recounting one's innermost musings, Kathy reflects on her happy childhood at Hailsham, attempting to dissect every encounter and event for meaning and hints of her present situation. The school appears idyllic, with staff who care greatly for them, and yet one gets the sense it's like a zoo or orphanage, for the children know next to nothing about the broader world and have almost no contact with popular culture. Ishigiro does a wonderful job of capturing the inside world of such a place, with all its traditions, mysteries, fragile friendships, and petty jealousies.
After graduation, the trio are sent to a remote cluster of cottages where they spent two years in a safe post-graduate environment. They are nominally meant to do a lot of reading and write a big thesis paper, but mostly it's meant to slowly acclimate them somewhat to the outside world. From here, it's difficult to discuss the book further without spoiling it, so I'll just say that as Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow into adults, they slowly come to realize more about their relationship and more about the reality of their existence. It should be noted that many readers (especially those used to science fiction's recoding of words) will have realized what's going on pretty early in the story. However, Ishigiro is not looking to shock the reader with a big reveal, nor to ignite some kind of ethical debate (although it could easily serve such a purpose), but rather to explore the nature of relationships and memory. This is done through beautiful, controlled, subtle prose which perfectly captures both the joy and pain of remembering a better time and place. This is a brilliant work which has forced me to reconsider Ishigiro.
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on 9 November 2006
I am compelled to write here in response to the various reviews preceding mine which complain that the book is not sufficiently 'believable' to be merited.

These readers question such things as how the 'donors' would be able to donate vital organs up to four times and survive. I dont personally think that this is at all important. Maybe their metabolism was different? Maybe they had different renewing capabilities to a 'normal' human? Maybe the term vital organ also incorporates such things as bone marrow. Does it matter? Reading should not be about the author delivering everything to the reader on a plate but a partnership between author and reader.

Some readers also say they wanted rebellion. Yet for me it is the tacit unquestioning acceptance of the students to their fate that makes this novel so unbearably heart breaking and stay with you for long after you have put it down.

The plot is dark, and sinister which is emphasised through the juxtapostition of the youth and innocence of the characters and Ishiguro's childlike sylistic approach and the use of Kathy, as his narrator.

Use of language as well also adds to the darkness of this novel. For me one of the sadest aspects of the whole story was that the donors "completed". They didn't "die", they simply had a task to do, and when it was done they had completed it.

The trip for Ruth's 'possible', the army to protect Miss Geraldine, are similarly wrenching moments in the story. Poignant demonstations of a young child yearning a sense of belonging from a family she had never known and would never have.

This is NOT a book about science, this is a disturbing and unsettling book about people, about life, about emotion and about environmental influence.

I would give it as many stars as were available. Unfortunately I am limited to five.
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on 11 May 2006
This is the fourth book by Kazuo Ishiguro I've read and whilst I enjoyed "An Artist of the Floating World", found the "Unconsoled" intriguing and "The Remains of the Day" a wonderful character study, I think that with this book the author has far exceeded all those works. Others on this site have already said enough about the plot and the characterization and some have complained about its apparently mundane nature. It's true that nothing much happens on the surface yet this pathos is an essential part of the point. The great skill of the author is to make a series of apparently simple reminiscences interesting and convincing, and to build them into a totally compelling picture of a bizarre love triangle.

There is as much horror in what is unsaid as in what is said.

If you aren't moved by the simple but stunning ending, so beautifully written despite its inevitability, you have no heart. A masterpiece and one I shall remember forever.
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on 10 March 2006
I am writing this review because I feel that those who hated the book had completey misunderstood it. Of course there is something "two-dimensional" about these characters - the whole point to me is that this is about extremely damaged children / young people who have not developed emotionally along anything like a normal path - how could they? The absolutely chilling acceptance of their fate truly horrified me. I had heard before reading the book roughly what it was about. I had assumed, as no doubt had other readers who were subsequently disappointed, that it would tell the story of a rebel - someone who fought against the horror of their situation. As I read, I was at first surprised and then increasingly relieved that it did not follow that obvious path. The very language of the narrator, her innocence, her need to explain everything that happened, her acceptance were so poignant that at times I could barely read on. This is truly an amazing achievement. Let others write the sci-fi thrillers and tales of armageddon. Ishiguro paints a much more plausible and altogether more terrifying vision.
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on 27 September 2009
This is the first book I've read by Ishiguro, and I was pleasantly surprised by his clear, plain style with none of the gimmicks of some modern authors. It is written in the first person, by a female narrator who slowly reveals, through a series of reminiscenses the predicament she and her friends are in. They have been brought into the world by cloning for spare part surgery, which takes place when they are young adults in a series of donations which inevitably results in their death.

This is the macabre core of the plot, and I found it quite nauseating. At the same time, as a thought experiment, it was intriguing to see how the characters responded as they discovered their fate,and this kept me reading. I found their behaviour unbelievably passive, and desperately wanted one of the characters to escape, or to even think of escaping.

An easy and quick read - but not exactly 'light'
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on 30 April 2005
The genius of this book is the way a group of seemingly normal children (normal in their petty rivalries, small affections and sometimes cruelties) go through an evolution of events with a sinister undercurrent that leaves a feeling of suspense even once you have realised the nature of the central theme. It is set in a society that condones the practice of human cloning for organ harvest obviously because of the vital vested interests as perceived by "normal" human beings, a society that in in its total loss of values would ressemble that of the Nazi regime and the silent majority's silent acceptance of the "Final Solution". Allusions to the war are made but remain undefined and the story could be an imaginative one on the theme "what if cloning had been a priority research field during WWII" or it could be set in the second half of the current century on the assumption that by the middle of it we will witness another WW catastrophe accompanied by major technological progress. In the third and final part of the book the quasi-informal tone with its dark undercurrent of the first two parts evolves into an emotional crescendo of beautiful simplicity.
The Remains of the Day left me with a feeling of beauty, When we were orphans with a feeling of wonder, but Never let me go left me emotionally devastated.
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on 26 February 2005
Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel, the hauntingly titled Never Let Me Go, is much more straightforward than most of his books, and more fully comprehensible than any since The Remains of the Day. For me the fact that for once Ishiguro has a B-movie style scene where one character explains to another everything that has happened, was a weakness; and yet there is still enough lightness of detail and wealth of moral ambiguity to justify much strokey-chin thought after the last page has been closed, and even to warrant an early re-read.
The setting of the book is "England, late 1990s," but not as we know it. We can tell this even from the limited narrative offered by Kathy, who tells us very little of the real world outside her immediate (and past) environs. There are words dropped innocently but sinisterly: 'donations,' 'carers,' 'completing,' none of which have the meanings we understand. Kathy was a student at Hailsham, a residential institution for children which educated them and encouraged creative expression, but was not quite a school... They are being prepared for lives as 'carers' and 'donors', and they are a form of experiment made possible by advances in technology which, in this parallel world, came in the 1950s but which we are only seeing now.
To say more than this would ruin the story, as there are two mighty coups of revelation delivered about a quarter and halfway through the book, which resonate through the rest of the story and are quite impossible to free from your mind. After this, there is perhaps less mystery than we would expect from Ishiguro, which is disappointing but necessary to enable him to explore the characters' reactions to the truth of their world in full. Seasoned readers of his novels will be slightly surprised by the relatively informal tone of Kathy's voice, and her willingness to talk about things like sex (has *any* Ishiguro character *ever* done so before?), though the familiar languid phrasing and unrushed delivery is all present and correct.
Ishiguro has delivered another reliably fine confection in Never Let Me Go, perhaps without the pixel-perfect wondrousness of The Remains of the Day, or the mad beauty of The Unconsoled, but with more accessibility than any of his other books and, despite the unruffled surface, a cast iron certainty to perform open heart surgery on any reader who's got one to give.
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