Offering a skewered vision of a modern Britain where cloning is legal and fatal illnesses are a thing of the past, Kazuo Ishiguro fills his novel with meandering retrospect and heart-breaking revelations. The descriptions of the seemingly idyllic world of Hailsham given by Kathy slowly turn into much more sinister memories in this off-kilter sci-fi.
Through the power of hindsight Kathy manages to come to terms with the troubling issues surrounding her existence. Having been cloned for the sole purpose of one day donating until they ‘complete’, Kathy and her contemporaries pose the citizens of Britain with an intriguing and absorbing dilemma; although their existence means that no-one now dies of illness, the ethics surrounding their upbringing pose an uncomfortable problem that is gradually bought to the forefront of the book’s focus. Childish worries about who’s-not-talking-to-who soon fade into obscurity only to be replaced with discussions regarding their fate when the main characters finally confront what awaits them.
Kathy’s constant recollections, instead of being rather imposing, allows subtle reflection and the regret she experiences in her remembering offers palpable sadness. Because of this, the otherwise heinous acts she recalls (such as Ruth’s keeping Tommy and Kathy apart out of spite) are made heart-breaking rather than evil and encourages empathy with the book’s protagonist and her friends.
Never Let Me Go is driven by Kathy’s and-another-thing style. Pushing the story forward, her reflections are fuelled by explanations required to fully understand the tales she describes. This conversational style allows her to transcend the boundaries between our world and the alien one of Hailsham. The mixing of identifiable emotions of school days with the imposing threat imposed by the much larger forces awaiting the Hailsham students means that the story poses to make a huge impact on the reader’s sensibilities. The hopes of all of the central characters (ranging from fruitless career ambitions that lay outside the organ donor arena to the possibility of postponing their fate to chase the promise of love) and the outcomes trying to obtain such dreams produce are moving but it is Tommy whose story is the most gut-wrenching; he weight he puts on the importance of ‘The Gallery’ and his reaction when he discovers the truth is truly heart-breaking.
Although beautifully composed, Never Let Me Go‘s tone is sombre and may be a little too morose for some. Apart from this, there is a constant niggling feeling that something is missing. Although there is something obviously alien about Kathy’s world, there’s something undefinable that ultimately makes her world somewhat unbelievable. This said however, there is no doubt that Ishiguro’s work is touching and it is the final few chapters that resonate most. In their adult lives Ruth has to cope with a bad donation whilst Kathy and Tommy have to come to terms with the fallout of several shocking revelations. Some have branded the book as being mundane but their analysis is incomplete. It may be a slow burner but its intensity and moving exploration of the deeper social issues surrounding cloning resonate.
Essentially a book about what it is to be human and the malleability of human understanding, Never Let Me Go is not your stereotypical sci-fi, it is more of a sci-life insomuch as it examines the outcome of science’s imposition on human life. Offering an unique exploration of the problems posed by puberty, the book takes something familiar and makes it just alien enough to make it memorable. Neatly avoiding the pitfall of going into huge descriptive passages about the alternate past experienced by the people who populate his work, Ishiguro manages to sidestep the debates regarding whether it is right or wrong to clone human beings and instead presents a work that elegantly examines the human condition.
Never Let Me Go is set to be released in UK cinemas 14th January 2011.