Posted by: Matt | June 20, 2007

Review of Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
2005

Rating: 2.5

Reason for reading: This was the June pick for the little book club I have with my wife. I read about this book when it first came out but the synopses I read were pretty vague so I passed on it. I kept reading good things about it and finally decided to pick it up.

I recommend you stop reading here if you are afraid of spoilers as I find it impossible to review this book without giving away a major plot point. If you would like to read a non-spoilerish review, please visit Stefanie’s review at So Many Books.

*******

 

 

 

Quote: “We all know it. We’re modelled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. We all know it, so why don’t we say it?” (Italics from author)

This is a story about friends. Friends who grew up together at Hailsham, sort of a boarding school. This is a story of their struggles to get along, to figure out their relationships and their place in their little community. They must come to terms with each other and their eventual donations, for they are clones who have been raised as organ farms.  This is a story that could have been so much more…

“Who cares?”, I kept thinking as I read Never Let Me Go. Not me. I don’t care about these children and their petty squabbles. They have little fights with each other, patch things up, have a good time for awhile and then fight again. Nothing extraordinary happens.

Herein lies my main complaint. Even after you discover they are clones (which I knew before I even began reading, so I wasn’t even able to enjoy the suspense) who have been bred for their organs, the big moral questions are left unanswered. But not just unanswered, for the most part those questions aren’t even asked. Even to the end, when Kathy and Tommy approach the founders of Hailsham, the tough questions are not asked. They merely want a deferral from donations and the resulting death. They don’t want to know why they must donate, why people think them less then human, why their lives don’t matter, why the English government allows this to continue, if cloning humans for their organs is wrong or right or neither. The topic of whether or not clones have “souls” is broached, but not in much depth, and almost as an aside.

Why? Why? Why? No one cares. The clones just are, the only moral judgment given is that non-clones believe that clones should never be treated as human, they are merely things, sub-human, medical miracles. Did I miss something, did Ishiguro attempt to deal with these questions without explicitly asking them? If so, I don’t see it anywhere in the novel. I was never given a reason to care what happened to these people, these clones. They didn’t even seem to care themselves. Mostly I found myself annoyed at their little disagreements, and the snobbish way Ruth treated everyone.

There was also an overuse of little cliffhangers. Kathy, the narrator, would end sections of the book by ominously mentioning something that happened previously. This got a bit old after awhile as it was a contrived way to move the reader on to the next page.

Yet, with all these complaints I still feel I need to read another Ishiguro book. Mostly because of his style, which is simple and almost immature. Was this style specific to Never Let Me Go? Was it used to represent the clones inability to mature, to grow intellectually? Or is it a style the author uses in all of his books? These are questions I need answered.

After all these complaints a rating of 2.5 looks a little high. But I can’t deny the topic is intriguing even if the big questions aren’t asked. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t care very much. And yet somehow it left me wanting to read more from the author.

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Responses

  1. Phew, I was starting to think we’d disagree on everything 😉

    I especially agree with your views on the cliffhanger bit.

  2. Actually, on second thought, I don’t think it was as much “cliffhangers” as it was forced mystique (if I may coin my own term). Cliffhangers to me, were those annoying end of chapter scenes in the DaVinci Code; you know, when someone walked into a room and couldn’t believe their eyes… Next chapter. Both are irritating devices, especially when overdone.

  3. I didn’t particularly like this book, either, and I thought for awhile (I think until I read John’s review) that I was the only person around who felt that way. There are just so many questions left unanswered. I remember while reading that I kept thinking of ways that the clones could escape the situation, once they had figured out what was going on (given that Ishiguro gave so few details about how the society actually worked, it seemed easy). But of course someone in my book group pointed out that maybe the clones were bred for passivity…
    Anyway, I remember (though it was years back) that I actually liked Remains of the Day, and didn’t find his style simple then.

  4. sorry you didn’t like the book so very much. I really liked it, I found it horrifying and touching and sad. But I like that the same book can inspire so many different reactions in different readers.

  5. I’m not going to read the review, Matt, just in case I pick this one up sometime…but I had to comment on the great looking cover. That’s a striking piece of art.

  6. John – I was also beginning to think we would never agree, but I went back and read your review of this after I wrote mine and we hit on a lot of the same points. I was trying to thing of a better term than “cliffhangers” but drew a blank so I went with it.

    gentle reader – I hear a lot about Remains of the Day, might have to pick it up. My wife brought up the same point about them not rebelling when they understood the situation. Things like that are what put me off.

    Stefanie – You’re definitely not in the minority. I think I was just expecting something different when I heard about clones, maybe I was looking for the book I would have written…

    Sam Houston – As I mentioned above, Stefanie’s review is a good non-spoiler one. I also think the cover is quite amazing, and I don’t usually like photographs of people for a cover, I think that’s a photo anyway.

  7. Not rebelling is frustrating to watch, I suppose, but so very human. Why do the obese keep eating when they know they’ll be diabetic, the Germans thought ‘never here,’ the wife who keeps w/ her abusive husband. People are frustrating when they won’t leave a situation we feel, from the outside, can be different (if they left – where would they go? It would be like walking off the end of the earth).
    I felt the book was about love, where we come from, what we accept, and how one’s whole existence can seem to be driven by a single moment (by the narrative we have about that moment). Characters had to live with the consequences of their actions or inactions (which came from moral stances) or the consequence of their way of life – living what appears to be the inevitable course of one’s life, few ask why. They’re just trying to survive. But the old lady seemed to care. I do agree that the “simple” tone of the book was evocative of the characters being eternal children. I was really interested by your reaction to it, since it wasn’t mine. When 4 of us discussed this book just a few weeks ago, one of our group also didn’t care so much about it, the other 3 of us were very taken – by the story of love. Another of us also found the whole acceptance angering, but for a different reason than you – he found the story very real in that it was so much like people’s acceptance that there must be a god (a staunch atheist). That they live their life with no questions and wish something other than themselves to be responsible for what happens. The ‘suspense’ cooked up in it seemed a little false, I agree, but the characters and their story still compelled me.

  8. Ted – I can see your point about not rebelling being human. But it seems like there is always some faction that will, even if it’s small, and I suppose that could have happened but not been within the scope of the story.

    I guess I never felt the love that you admired in the story. It didn’t seem very developed to me, it was almost as if suddenly they were supposed to be in love, maybe the simplicity of the narrative was holding me back.

    I am very glad to see some opposing viewpoints in the comments though, as I think blogs are supposed to be about discussion, so thanks for your comment!

  9. I agree, Matt, a totally engaging discussion that made my reading this book more rich – and exactly what I come to blogs like your’s for.

  10. Oh I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the writing came off as immature. I figured it was Ishiguro’s famous ability to ventriloquize, capturing the narrator’s young voice perfectly, but I simply found it amateur and it made me impatient.

  11. imani – Maybe it is Ishiguro’s famous ability, but I didn’t know he had that famous ability.


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