Well this may be my new favourite book. It’s not perfect but certainly got me right in the feels. It’s hard to really talk about without giving loads away, and it’s one of those books where little bits of information are drip fed to you until it all comes out. But then it was made into a film with Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield a few years ago so maybe everyone knows the plot anyway…
Essentially, it’s about three friends Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, from their childhood at Hailsham an English boarding school into adulthood, as told by Kathy now 31 years old.
They have a complicated relationship, with Ruth being a dominating but inconsistent presence that Kathy and Tommy are both grateful to be around. But she lies and misremebers things to improve her own image and impress other students, she is also bitchy and manipulative. I got a bit tired of her to be honest, and struggled to understand why Kathy and Tommy put up with her for so long, but then you do that when you’re young…There is also the love triangle between the three of them (of course) and all those angsty teenage feelings.
As usual with Ishiguro it’s an exploration of memory which, like the past, is another country. Kathy is working as a carer, coming to the end of her last year, and remeniscing about Hailsham, Ruth, and Tommy. So the tale wanders around a bit as memory lane does, and Ruth and Tommy’s recollections don’t always match her own.
But then there’s the other stuff, the spoilers stuff so highlight to read. All the students at Hailsham and elsewhere are clones. They have been created, bred, and raised purely to be used for ‘donations’ of their organs. They will donate up to four times, then ‘complete’ or die. That is all that their lives will offer. And it is incredibly sad.
One unanswered question is why they don’t just run away, why they don’t just refuse to do as they’ve been told. I suppose that has been the extent of their indoctrination but the more you think about it the more it seems unrealistic that Kathy doesn’t just jump in her car and drive to Scotland and go into hiding.
But this isn’t one of those stories. Ishiguro doesn’t really write about people starting revolutions or challenging the norm. Maybe that’s a good thing. In Farenheit 451, a world where books are illegal and burnt, and people anaesthise themselves with drugs and TV. And our protagonists runs away and lives in some woods with about 6 other guys who have somehow memorised The New Testament and the works of Shakespeare. Somehow this is going to solve the problem?
So maybe I don’t want a book where Kathy runs away to hide in the woods because that would be silly. And Never Let Me Go is sad, and that’s what makes it good.