Book Review: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sometimes things just line up in such a way that you can’t help feeling they were put there on purpose. Early this month, as part of a course I’m taking, I went to a weekend retreat, held at a secluded compound by the Credit River. It was a bit eerie, because many of my dreams take place in expansive compounds: wherever I go, even if it seems I’m outside, I just have to look up to see that there is a roof, or some sort of enclosure to remind me that I am not free. So, what book from our library did I take with me at the last minute? Why, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, of course. What I didn’t realize is that much of it takes place on a compound…but I’ll get back to this.

I’ve not read any books by Ishiguro – I haven’t even seen the movie adaptation of Remains of the Day. That said, I did work on Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music In The World, an adaptation of one of his short stories. I’d heard good things about Never Let Me Go, and had always meant to read it. With it being released as a film recently (I don’t think it did that well, despite the critical praise), and since I needed something to read during my time away, I thought it would be a good pick.

Never Let Me Go concerns the story of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. It’s told from Kathy’s perspective in the present. She is a carer, who drives from centre to centre, visiting those she looks after. Very soon we are introduced to their beginnings, as children, in a place called Hailsham. It’s an isolated educational enclave, somewhere in England, where the students live, go to school, and grow up. But there’s something a little odd about it all. Perhaps it’s the isolation from the rest of the world. Something in the way some of their guardians regard them. All too soon, their sun-dappled childhood in Hailsham becomes something which haunts them as they grow into young adults. It’s practically all Kathy can use to mark the passing of her time.

Within these reminiscences, we are introduced to Tommy and Ruth, who become the foundational friendships Kathy clings to through adolescence, regardless that Ruth oscillates from friend to enemy – a colourful rather than careful individual who becomes a voice of danger in the fog of their relationship.

The magic of this book is the skill with which Kathy’s perspective is written. There is a purpose for Hailsham, for their being there. There is a reason she is a carer. Never Let Me Go is a capital-H haunting novel, inhabited by people who are slightly cold but reaching out, never quite managing to touch a meaning they hope is there. I can’t say much more without spoiling things, not that it’s a book laden with surprises, so much as layered with subtle, sad observations. A beautiful book for a rainy day.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (ISBN: 978-0-676-97711-0) is available at an independent bookstore near you, or at various online retailers.

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