“And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.” – Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
I’ve often fallen in love with a book for the way it’s written- it’s lyrical language, the pretty imagery, the poetic quotes that stick with me. That is until I read Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. That’s not to say that this book is not written well, but I fell in love with it for a different reason; having been translated into several different languages, it relies more on the story it has to tell rather than the way it’s told. Having just finished it last night, I took a shower in order to let it steam, to process what I had just read. And I realized then that what I will take away with me here is not pretty phrases and word for word memorization of memorable sentences, but the emotions the characters and their lives have inflicted upon me- the surprise, the grief, the hope. And having always been a lover of good characterization, this book became addicting. So much so that towards the end, despite the fact that I was reading it for class and therefore had a deadline, I found myself not wanting to finish it. It’s as if I wanted to say to the characters, “Never let me go.”
One of the most compelling aspects of this novel is its plot. Without giving too much away, the idea that people’s cells are cloned to create humans born into the world purely for organ donations is intriguing in its own right. But while the premise could be considered sci-fi, the book presents itself in such a way that it seems real and the concept doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Its narrator, Kathy, tells the novel, up until its third part, almost entirely in flashbacks. Because of this, the story is told in that simple, straightforward way I previously mentioned I admire. And because a majority of the story involves their growing up, the tone of the memories is light-hearted despite the serious nature of the underlying theme.
With it’s realistic and relatable characters, the author incorporates the ordinary events of childhood into this strange environment- what is known to the children as Hailsham- in a way that allows the novel to become something of a coming of age story. The emotions and adventures of Kathy, and specifically her two closest friends Ruth and Tommy, despite their different locations and specificities, are so relatable and nostalgic that I felt as though I was coming home while reading it- or at the very least stepping back into my own childhood. It all felt very personal. And in that way, when a character, specifically Kathy, was wrong or jipped, I wanted desperately to jump into the book myself to set it straight.
Along with the realistic characters, the book delves into the very elements of what make us human: jealousy, confusion, fear, loss, selfishness. Interwoven throughout much of the novel (or perhaps it just seems this way because I read the whole thing in just a few days) are comments and experiences relating to sex and the awkward sexual tendencies/confusion, experienced by all but hardly discussed by any, of a young teenager trying to figure out the world. In this way, Never Let Me Go doesn’t shy away from the more taboo and discrete, but nonetheless important, aspects of growing up and being human.
It is this close attention to the details of the human experience, the thought put into the childhood memories, and the use of flashbacks to reveal these stories, that makes Never Let Me Go one of the most unique and cherished books I have read in quite some time. The life of the characters is realistic and ultimately paints the human experience as so fragile that it’s heart wrenching. If you want to read something profound, that might simultaneously make you cry and feel grateful for the time you have with your family and other loved ones, then I highly suggest reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.