Read: July 2006
Kathy H is thirty-one and has been a carer for more than eleven years now. But as her time comes to an end Kathy looks back on her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School as she strives to come to grips with the fate from which the children were shielded for so long, but which has been their destiny from the beginning. As Kathy’s narrative reflection unfolds a shadow begins to rise from which neither the reader nor the characters can hope to escape.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of dissecting the complexity and heartache of childhood. But in this, his sixth novel, he has incorporated into his trademark tenderness a sinister and horrifying backdrop. This is Frankenstein for the modern age, and just like Mary Shelley’s epic novel, the horror is in the terrifying and unnatural potential of science rather than the being it creates. For like Frankenstein’s monster, the children growing up at Hailsham are mere victims of the science that has created them, innocent and naïve and just trying to live a worthwhile life like the rest of us.
Throughout Never Let Me Go there is the uncomfortable notion that something horrific, almost unmentionable is lurking just around the corner, some secret which, when it is revealed, will dramatically transform the events taking place. As is Ishiguro’s style, it begins to unwind slowly, dawning gradually on the reader rather than confronting them headfirst. It is to his immense credit that the events do not spill over into science fiction or fantasy. Rather, this is terrifying because it is all too believable.
One of the things which struck me most powerfully about Never Let Me Go was Kathy’s staunch optimism and gratitude for her luck in life. I absolutely love Kazuo Ishiguro, no other author is able to carry off understatement with such panache as he, and even in this, his most emotionally involving novel, the reader is often left wondering how silence and the absence of action could resonate with such cacophonous significance.
Never Let Me Go is one of the affecting books I have ever read: I wanted to hurl it onto the floor and have a temper tantrum such was the intensity of the writing. But, of course, it was too good to put down and I finished it in two days. Never Let Me Go is the novel someone was always bound to write, the spectre of science today. Thankfully it was Kazuo Ishiguro who did so. Like Frankenstein, it is a startling work of literature which every reader the world over should read, and then read again.
9 out of 10