I absolutely loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s other novel, The Remains of the Day, so I had high expectations for his far more popular work, Never Let Me Go. But I was left largely dissatisfied.
One could classify this book as science fiction and dystopian, but the story is far more about character relationships with the SciFi element serving as an odd, yet necessary background. The story follows the complicated and multilayered friendship/ love triangle of Ruth, Tommy and Kath, from their days at a secluded boarding school in the English countryside to their adulthood. There are many allusions to the sinister role students of Hailsham will play and the ominous future awaiting them, which I found a little tiring. I understand that building suspense is important but it felt drawn out, and eventually became so self-evident that I think it would have been better to state it much earlier.
The story is being retold by Kath in a style that was not conducive to a smooth reading experience. I found myself getting frustrated by the jumping between time periods and the constant signaling of when a new memory was beginning and when it was the right time to reveal another (the lack of chronology I guess?). Lines like “I want to talk about….but I’ll first ” “One thing that occurs to me now..” “I should explain..but..” were irritating. I realize the effect is meant to be that of her telling you (more like confiding in you) her story in person in an informal and conversational manner. I have probably read books like that in the past but for some reason the way it’s done in Never Let Me Go leaves much to be desired.
I also struggled through the intricate details of Hailsham life. Of course it was integral to the story, but I repressed the urge to skip over descriptions of cringe-worthy teen culture like the cliques, gossip, and petty fights. At one point I wondered if this was turning into a Young Adults book (YA is not my cup of tea). The pacing of the last third of the novel sped up considerably so I enjoyed it more as I was finally getting to the crux of the matter. I was able to connect to the characters and experienced genuine sadness at a love lost and their tragic fate as society’s outcasts and expendables.
I definitely want to acknowledge Ishiguro’s skill in creating compelling emotional imagery and a unique although strange world. But despite memory and reminiscence being significant themes, this story was not memorable to me.