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A Truly Organic Experience
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.