Never Let Me Go

Meyer described her novel, The Host, as science fiction for those who “don’t like science fiction”. Yet The Host is child’s play in comparison to Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a truly masterful amalgam of science-fiction and ‘high brow’ literature. This was the first book in a while that had me completely enthralled. Every spare moment I had over the last two days was sacrificed for this book, and when occupied otherwise, my thoughts would be fixed on Hailsham and its odd inhabitants.

Tuesday morning, I think. I had just begun to familiarise myself with the prose of Gaskell, when a package arrived from San Fransisco. It was actually very exciting to receive a book in the mail, because I’m hardly ever given books. Instead, I’m perpetually reminded by those around me that I have a 1.3m high to-read pile in my study, and I would do better to squander my money on trivial things such as a new ipod, when I have a perfectly fine –  six month old – nano already. Apple and their tricksy marketing schemes.

But I digress. I tore the package open, and I was perplexed – baffled and utterly bemused – by the cover. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe a book should be judged by its cover. That’s why I’ve juxtaposed the two images above. I’d done some ‘research’ beforehand, and found the image on the right. Although it looks sinister now, prior to reading, it merely looked sombre. I thought what I was receiving in the mail was another ordinary portrait of the human condition. I was completely unprepared for the eerie wide-eyed child, or the unapologetically bold black title (just as I was unprepared for talk of cloning and organ donations). And suddenly, despite being immensely curious, I was also rather apprehensive about reading the book. Not because I didn’t like the cover, but because I have a fear of all things remotely gothic / macabre / psychological-thriller. A few years ago, I watched The Sixth Sense, and had nightmares for almost ten months. And I couldn’t walk down the hallways of my school without glancing at the ceilings first. Even the kitchen – no, especially the kitchen – wasn’t safe (all those knives). I haven’t watched a scary movie since.

In the end, I was lured by curiosity, a positive review by Margaret Atwood, and the prospect of reading more Enid Blyton-esque boarding school fiction. I eventually grew to appreciate the cover on the left because it portrayed the themes and tone of Ishiguro’s tale more accurately than the other one.

I wasn’t all that impressed by the stylistic elements of the novel, to be honest. His style, in fact, seemed lacklustre; nothing out of the ordinary. But there was something about the intertwined nature of the protagonist’s memories that exuded a feeling of unsettling verisimilitude. Under his pared down simplistic prose, there was an eloquent complexity that captured my attention. It really did feel as though I was driving down a solitary country road with Kathy, listening to her stories and conversing with her. It really did feel as though I was delving deep into her mind, and picking apart the tangle of memories that defined her childhood. Oh, and of course, it was refreshing to read plain old English after ploughing through the superflous flourishes of Show Pony Salman.

One thing that really unsettled me was that Never Let Me Go takes place in the picturesque countryside, among poplar trees and sunlit fields. I’ve always associated science-fiction with cityscapes, and I suppose that’s why this particular literary hybrid is considered so clever. There’s this one place I like to visit in the summer, and while it’s only a forty minute drive away from the city, there are horses and persimmon orchards and Victorian cottages – I don’t think I’ll ever go back there without thinking of Hailsham and the organ donors.

What I’m trying to say is that Never Let Me Go is unsettling precisely because the world that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth live in is so eerily similar to our own. Ishiguro examines the direction of a society that is headed towards cloning and unprecedented technological advancements, and we are that society.

Thanks again to the very generous Matthew, of A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, who sent me this book. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Ishiguro.

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17 thoughts on “Never Let Me Go

  1. Never Let Me Go is more freaky of a read than The Handmaid’s Tale owing to the fact that it’s set in a suburban town near us. I re-read the book after I finished Atwood’s book, drawing similarities between the two. Ishiguro does have a knack in telling an unusual story out of the ordinary setting.

  2. Hm, I’ve never read The Handmaid’s Tale – I tend to stray away from dystopian/sci-fi novels in general, which is why I have yet to read Huxley’s A Brave New World.

    And yes, he does have a rather unusual gift for storytelling. I look forward to reading his other works.

  3. I’ve read several of Ishiguro’s books, and Never Let Me Go, was my first from him. It hooked me. He relies heavily on the unreliable narrator, a technique that works for him. His books are haunting…in that they stay with you long after you are finished. You should also try A Pale View of Hills, which is my favorite of his, and An Artist of the Floating World.

    1. I think I’m hooked as well! And yes, I agree – he appears to be very adept at creating the unreliable narrator. A Pale View of Hills is on my list for the 09 A to Z challenge, but An Artist of the Floating World sounds intriguing too :)

    1. Trevor Berrett – I’m glad to hear there are better ones out there! A lot of times I think I’m in love with a certain book or author, but then I read their other works and they don’t live up to expectations (McEwan, for one)

      Chain ReaderRemains of the Day seems to be the general favourite. It’s the one that won him the Booker, isn’t it?

      Rebecca Reid – I think you’ll like it, especially if you’re interested in dystopias and all that. I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, but from what I’ve heard about it, I think the themes explored in the Ishiguro book are gentler – though not less powerful or moving – than those in Atwood’s. There is some coldblooded talk of sex, but it’s definitely not to the extent you mentioned was in the Atwood.

  4. Wow, there was another one?! I always find it a bit odd when a single book has so many editions and covers. Not that I’m complaining – it’s good to have a wide selection to choose from, since I’m so particular with them.

    This makes me sound slightly neurotic, but I still haven’t bought my own copy of A Suitable Boy because I haven’t managed to get a hold of the edition I like!

  5. haha. i’m that way, too. a lot. what i did with my a suitable boy was took off the dustjacket. i do that when i don’t like the cover. but by now i know you don’t like hardcovers, so good luck and happy waiting. :D

  6. I had nightmares for weeks after reading The Handmaid’s Tale. Rarely has a book affected me so srongly.

    Remains of the Day is my favorite of Ishiguro’s books. I’ve seen the “wide eyed child” cover on this one and find it rather startling. The book sounds fascinating, though.

    1. From the title alone, The Handmaid’s Tale sounded fairly innocuous, so I added it to my TBR list – only to be warned off it by several people. I’ll definitely be avoiding it if it’s nightmare-inducing. As thought provoking as it may be, I don’t think it’s worth weeks of bad sleep :)

      Oh, another fan of Remains of the Day! I’m really looking forward to reading it now.

      As for the cover – to be honest, it doesn’t reflect the book that well, because it gives the appearance of a futuristic, sci-fi dystopia, but that’s not what this book really is. The majority of the novel is set in Hailsham, a quaint boarding school in the English countryside. And the creepiness is a little more subtle.

  7. I think The Handmaid’s Tale is either love it or hate it — except for me, who am still in the middle about it. I think any dystopia could be “nightmare inducing”.

  8. Rebecca – I usually like to try things out for myself before making judgements, but I think I’ll pass The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m quite curious about her other novels though – Alias Grace, and Cat’s Eye particularly.

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