• Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
• Paperback: 288 p
• Publisher: Vintage, 2005 
• ISBN: 1400078776
• Genre: Contemporary British Literature; Science Fiction/Dystopia
• Recommended for: Anyone interested in flawless writing, questioning what it means to be human, and maybe interested in the ethics of cloning and organ donation.
Quick Review: A beautifully written novel that forces the reader to question what makes him/her human. A must-read for anyone interested in self and societal reflection.

How I Got Here: I heard a review for the recent film version of the novel on NPR which piqued my interest and (of course) had to read the book version before I saw the movie. Also, in the spring, I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and loved his writing style. This book satisfies a task for the  Fall Reading Challenge.

The Book: Goodreads’ synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, a moving new novel that subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance-and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

My Analysis and Critique: First, let me point out that I feel that it behoves me to read Ishiguro’s writing. His books always have a place next to my Austens, Orwells, Fieldings, and Whartons. His writing is lovely and I relish his words as if they were lines from Keats.

In considering plot, this novel tells an alternate reality story of a group of people doomed to a short, seemingly meaningless life as organ donors, who are detached from society because their miserable existence brings pain to the very people they are sacrificing for. And yet, this is NOT what the story is really about. Truly, this is a story about a young woman, Kathy H., as a member of this “untouchable” society, looking back over her years filled with love, art, friendship, and lots of life. It is not by any means a cheerful story, but it is filled with a somewhat melancholy love.

Many might disagree, but I believe that the issues of cloning and organ donation, which lurk behind much of the plot, are simply what Alfred Hitchcock would have called a “MacGuffin”- a gimmick used to provide the true story. Ishiguro really wants the reader to ponder “what makes one human?” Is a life any less lived simply because it is given a socially decreed deadline at birth? This is what Kathy H. is concerned with as she takes the reader through her (too) few years of life. She seems to believe that she has enjoyed a full life.

While her friends and classmates ask “why?” and are desperate for love, significance, and the simple parts of society we take for granted (a job in an office), Kathy H. seems to conclude that while she and her classmates were set off in a detached world from society, they did indeed live normal, productive lives. She finds comfort and meaning in her friends from Hailsham and her career as a “carer”. Is that much different from any of us?

Never Let Me Go is a sad story, and yet it is not. Ishiguro lulled me into acceptance as Kathy H. showed that she and her friends had dealt with many common parts of life- teachers, frenemies, casual sex, music, love, dreams, and ultimately death. While the donors live a very short life, it feels natural, as if Kathy H. is an old woman sharing her life story after seeing her friends continuously buried before her. Her mature reflections deceive the reader into believing that she has lived much longer than her 31 years.

While I was horrified by the notions of human cloning for the purpose of organ donation, I’m surprised to realize that I wasn’t focused on it much as I read, and I probably won’t remember it as a major part of the book. Instead, I will always look back at this book as medium for me to consider what makes me human; what links me with the rest of humanity? Is it because I love? Because I enjoy art in books and writing? Because I hate Mondays? These are they questions I will cling to after reading this book.

The story’s namesake: “Never Let Me Go” by Judy Bridgewater, as imagined by Mark Romanek and Alex Garland’s film adaptation.

Look for my review of the 2010 film version next week!


  1. Goodreads reviews
  2. Margaret Atwood’s review on Slate.com