Review – Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro

9780571258093I’ve been on a bit of backlist bender lately and with one of my favourite books of 2014 being compared to this I thought I’d give it ago. This is one of the most haunting coming of age novels I have ever read. Set in England in an alternative late 1990s the story is narrated by Kathy who is a carer for a series of donors. Kathy is looking back on her life which brings her back to her most formative years at the exclusive Havisham School.

At first Havisham appears to be an elite school for the brightest and gifted. But as we slowly learn more about the school and its students we discover what their gifts really are and what they are being prepared for. Central to the story is the friendship of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. Each of whom is struggling to come to terms with what is expected of them and what their future holds. The naivety of the three main characters is slowly eroded as they age however there is always acceptance of what their role in life is meant to be.

Ishiguro underplays his hand perfectly making any revelations seem normal and familiar. And in doing so makes the story even more tragic. A morally complex look at the value of life that acutely captures the fragility, despair and uncertainty of growing up.

Buy the book here…

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’

No one told me this book would be so…well, awesome.

Ok, so I lie. Many bloggers and critics have written about this book since it was first published in 2005. It has its haters and its not-likers, of course. But for the main part it’s been well-received, and when I found out it was being made into a movie starring cute-as-a-button Carey Mulligan and the gorgeous Keira Knightley I just had to get on the wagon.

I guess “shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize” emblazoned across the cover was probably some indication that the book would be, if not enjoyable, then thought-provoking. I had previously categorised Kazuo Ishiguro as one of those Japanese authors that I really should be reading but I don’t read much of, like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. I think I already had in mind that Kazuo’s works would be a little bit “kuh-razy”, which I have to be in a certain mood for. But while Mr Ishiguro is crazy – it’s in all the best ways, I promise.

Never Let Me Go begins with ‘Kathy’ at 32 years old, reminiscing about her idyllic childhood at Hailsham, where the children are encased in their happy, painless bubble; provided with everything to keep them physically healthy and encouraged in artistic  and athletic pursuits. Hailsham seems like your ordinary Toffee-English boarding school for the privileged few, but there’s something a little ‘different’ about it that the reader can’t quite put their finger on, in the beginning. When we’re finally let in on Hailsham’s little ‘secret’, the book becomes a bit of a philosophical mind-bender.

What makes this story so interesting, so absolutely heartbreaking, is its refusal to wallow in sentimental bull dust. The subject matter is scarily relevant today – the idea of ‘playing God’ is something that civilisation questions with every technological and scientific advance. But it is often the human element that divides us on this issue. Where do we draw the line? Is one human life worth a half-dozen others? Ishiguro handles this issue in an originally subtle way. In fact, its subtlety might be lost on people expecting high, impassioned speeches and a rebellion against the cause. Although it has elements of alternative history, dystopia and science fiction, Never Let Me Go bypasses the expectations of the genres to become its own brand of quality contemporary literary fiction.

Was it the beautiful, exacting prose, or the haunting feeling it left me with? Like origami, this book deserves to be admired: a modest creature on the bookshelf, but its fascinating secrets, and thoughts of its construction, lie within the perfect folds. Clearly, I loved it: it’s right up there with The Book Thief for me.

Do read it, and let me know how it affected YOU.

Dystopian Fiction – My One Big Weakness (This Week, Anyway)

What is it about dystopian fiction that really pulls at our heartstrings?

I refused to see the movie The Road, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, because I found the book so desolate. I am the first to start bawling in theatres, so I figure that if it’s really that great, then I’ll wait until I can watch it on DVD in the comfort and non-judgment of my own loungeroom and cry my little heart out. Funnily enough, I had no problem watching another McCarthy book-to-movie adaptation, No Country For Old Men, which is arguably equally as desolate. But then, it’s that ‘dystopian’ thing, isn’t it?

Deriving from  an ancient Greek language construction of ‘bad’ and ‘place’, the idea of the ‘dystopia’ has long been fascinating school of thought for skylarking philosophers. Dystopian fiction then, does have a cautionary edge to it for us plebean readers. Like a school teacher that just won’t quit, a dystopian tale often takes place in a futuristic universe, or an alternative history that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, and tells us that if we do or don’t do something, then THIS will happen. And it’s generally bad. Besides a foreshadowing of what things may come if we take a certain route, the marks of the dystopian societies are often just skewed reflections of who we are today, right now.

People in modern day society have often made the connection to dystopian novels: the surveillance of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four through ‘Reality’ TV; the test tube designer babies just as prophesied in Brave New World. To the uninformed Westerner, the society in which Offred lives in The Handmaid’s Tale is Afghanistan; and uninformed foreigner or not, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, where people are transformed under surgery to become perfection, is pretty much Los Angeles, USA under a different name.

It always comes back to one thing: not the struggle for humanity per se, but the question of what exactly humanity is. This post may seem a little depressing but the latest dystopian novel I’ve been reading has affected me greatly and caused me to think about this subject a lot. I finished it a few weeks ago but I still I have a lot of questions, some answers, and some more questions to those answers.

Stay tuned for my review on Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartwrenching dystopian Sci Fi, Never Let Me Go, tomorrow.