Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

There seems to have been a big resurgence of interest in this book recently, coinciding with the release of the film (in the US now and the UK in January – I’m not sure of the release dates in other countries). I’ve seen a few other reviews this week, and I’m going to add one more.

This was a difficult review to write, because it’s almost impossible to discuss this book without spoiling it. When I started reading it I had no idea what it was about, so I think it probably made more of an impact on me than it would have if I’d known what to expect. I’m sure you could still enjoy it if you did know though, because there’s so much more to this book than the ‘mystery’ – and you may be able to work out what’s happening quite early in the book anyway, particularly if you read a lot of dystopian fiction.

The story is narrated by thirty-one year old Kathy, who is working as a carer, but I can’t tell you who she is caring for or why. In a series of memories and flashbacks, Kathy remembers her childhood at Hailsham School. Right from the beginning it’s obvious to the reader that Hailsham is not your average English boarding school – there’s something very unusual about both the school and its students…

Kathy’s narrative has an interesting structure. She’ll start to tell us something, then go off on a tangent and talk about something else for a few pages, then return to the original story she was telling – and she does this throughout the entire book, which means the plot moves forward very slowly. The whole truth about Hailsham and the fate of the students is revealed very gradually over the course of the novel. And yet, despite the slow pace, I never got bored or lost interest.

After finishing this book I know that I liked it, but I’m not sure how much. This is one of those times when I’m glad I stopped using star ratings on my blog! I found it difficult to care about the three main characters (especially Kathy’s ‘best friend’ Ruth, who I really disliked) or to feel emotionally involved in their story, apart from the final couple of chapters which were very moving. For me the attraction of this book is the range of fascinating questions and issues it raises. I would have liked the book to have explored some of these issues in more detail, but on the other hand I appreciate being left to think about them for myself. And I know I’m going to be thinking about them for a long time.


12 thoughts on “Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. The Book Whisperer says:

    I’ve seen a few reviews for this book recently, probably (as you say) becasue of the upcoming film. (I do wonder if the fact that we get it so far behind the Americans will mean that the plot will be out there before we get to see it though).

    I had never even been curious about this book before but due to the great reviews of it I have seen, I must now add it to my massive TBR pile to read before January. Thanks for the great review 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I had never thought about reading this book either, until I saw it in the library last week and decided to give it a try. I hope you’ll enjoy it if you do decide to read it. 🙂

  2. Amanda says:

    I read this about 1.5 years ago and felt much the same after I was done. I didn’t really like any of the characters, but the book was lingering in my brain. I gave it 3 stars at the time (I was still rating then) but within six months, I’d come to love the book. It never left me alone and I thought about it all the time.

    It wasn’t just the concepts. I wasn’t spoiled ahead of time, but I figured out in about 5 pages what the twist was (probably because I’d just watched a movie with the same concept literally right before I started reading). Knowing from the beginning didn’t affect my reading. The book came to be one of my favorites of last year and eventually I went out and bought my own copy.

  3. givingreadingachance says:

    I did not know there was a movie coming out, that’s news to me.
    This is one of those books, I have thought often of buying. I have one book by this author here and I really did start reading it too, but somehow i couldn’t get into it and so it is still lying here waiting for me to pick it back up. I always blame my state of mind when I was reading that book.

    This is a great review, one which makes me realize that I must definitely read this and the one that I have.

    • Helen says:

      I’ll probably try another of Ishiguro’s books sometime. I liked his writing style – I found this book a lot easier to read than I had been expecting it to be.

      And I didn’t know about the movie until recently either!

    • Helen says:

      It’s good that you could still love the book even after knowing the plot from the beginning. I wasn’t sure if that would lessen the impact of the book or not.

  4. Karenlibrarian says:

    I did like the book, I think, I’m just frustrated by the ending. I don’t know if I’m more frustrated because I want to know what happens to Kathy or because I wanted her to be more proactive. I am looking forward to the movie though.

  5. farmlanebooks says:

    I didn’t connect with any of the characters either, but I still managed to love this book. I loved the subtle way in which the story was revealed and the way we were told/not told what was happening. I think the beauty of this book is how little it reveals and therefore how much we have to think about it. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time too 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it too, even without being able to connect with the characters! And yes, I think maybe if the book had gone into more detail it would have had less impact and been less thought-provoking.

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