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Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is science fiction for people who do not particularly like science fiction.


The story begins inconspicuously enough. Kathy, now a grown woman and a carer, reflects back on her childhood. She reminiscences of her time at Hailsham, a boarding school in England. A time filled with difficulties, changes, and confrontations between friends as they navigate through adolescence with emotions running high. Kathy explores her relationship with Ruth, a particularly influential and cunning girl at Hailsham, and their relationship with Tommy.

The guardians encouraged and praised the children for their creativity and artistic abilities, although no one knew why it is so important for them to create. At Hailsham, a child that is bad at art is equivalent to the last kid picked for team sports.  They were taught to value their health – smoking was the worst possible thing they could do. They were also taught that sex was natural and beautiful, and very important, but that they couldn’t have children. All through their years growing up they were in a constant state of confusion. It was a state of confusion most of them didn’t even realize until they were older. Once they moved to the Cottages, the older kids start going off for training. It slowly becomes clear to them that they will go off to become a carer at some point, and eventually will become donors themselves.

The personal relationships of the children are rather ordinary, but punctuated by occurrences just slightly off kilter that give the reader a sense that everything is not what it seems. Because the story is told by an older, more-knowledgeable Kathy, she can better point out the oddities and understand them in a way that she couldn’t when she was experiencing them. What makes this story wonderful is that while you lose yourself in the trials of friendship between young Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, the secret  of their peculiar situation sneaks up on you. Tapping you on the shoulder at long last and you turn to find it directly in front of you, barefaced. Kathy comes face to face with the full secret after a reconnection with Tommy and Ruth. You spend the whole book observing how human they are, only to find out just how inhuman they really are.