My latest book group at work gave me an opportunity to choose a book that had been on my to-read list for a while and one that I thought would be brilliant to talk about – Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fortunately I wasn’t wrong about it being a good book for discussion.
I had prepared by bringing the Faber reading guide along to yesterday’s meeting. It gave us a brilliant starting point, however it wasn’t long before we were having an animated discussion with a momentum all of it’s own!
The key characters in Never Let Me Go are Kathy, Ruth and Tommy who are all at school together in the idyllic-sounding Hailsham. It is told from the perspective of Kathy, who is now in her thirties. She looks back at her life and her memories of growing up with the other children at Hailsham school. The early pages of the novel are full of vivid descriptions of school-life, the relationships and day to day dramas that occur between pupils.
The first part of the novel is very detailed and the Kathy tells her story at her own pace. Slowly, Kathy drip-feeds the reader pieces of information that hint that something unsettling is going on under the surface. Some of the children at the school seem wary and fearful of the outside world, while others are emotionally disturbed.
I think that it is worth noting at this point that some members of the group found this pace a little frustrating at first. I’ve also heard people comment that they didn’t like the cold, detached style of the narrative voice, however I wasn’t put off by this and I liked that the language felt simple yet full of meaning.
An important part of the experience of Never Let Me Go is the way that the book creeps up on you so I really don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot. It is possible to guess, pretty early on what is going on, yet it is not until the end of the book that you really start to see the whole picture.
Kathy’s calm and sometimes disconnected voice ensures that for most of the novel the reader feels emotionally detached. The only character that I really felt any empathy for throughout the story was Tommy, though perhaps this is because Kathy herself feels connected to him as a character. Having said that, you do go on a very intimate journey with all three characters. I was actually quite surprised by how I felt at the end of the novel because it is not until the final pages that the impact of what Kathy is relating really hits the reader. Ishiguro ensures that the emotional impact of the book is most intense right at the end. It is as if he comes out and whacks you over the head – not with any real ‘twist’ exactly, but with a particular weight of feeling.
I’m so pleased that I discussed Never Let Me Go in a group, because even though I would have enjoyed reading it on my own anyway, the conversations within the group drew out all the different intricate layers of meaning and some of the more subtle nuances were highlighted that might otherwise have been missed.
Never Let Me Go affected me profoundly because of how beautifully constructed it was and how well the ideas were conveyed. The events of the novel felt a bit too possible, which made the story even more disturbing. It is an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels such as Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Brave New World.
A must-read and absolutely worthy of being called a ‘modern classic’.
On a side note, I was really taken aback at how different the style of Never Let Me Go was to the only other Ishiguro novel that I’ve read, which was An Artist of a Floating World which I wasn’t a big fan of (maybe I’ll have to revisit). Have you read any other Ishiguro novels that you would recommend?