Thursday, 19 July 2012

Hailsham and Humanity - Charley R Reviews "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

As a child, Kathy–now thirty-one years old–lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

If I'm honest, I doubt I would have picked this book up if it weren't on my set text list for the dystopian unit of our English Literature course next year (which, actually, I'm ridiculously excited about). While I found the tale's premise - a mysterious school, students who know they are different from their carers, but can't quite work out why, strange inconsistencies and little happenings that point to a darker undertone - intriguing, "Never Let Me Go" is not the sort of book I would usually pick up under my own steam.

With all the awards the book has won, I suppose I was probably being a little bit over-expectant. The sheer number of my schoolmates who have told me I simply have to read the book is somewhere beyond the reach of my fingers, and that's without mentioning my teachers harping on about it. 

I myself wasn't so sure. The opening sentences of the story look like the sort of thing I used to open a story with when I was about thirteen - a standard, rather uninteresting introduction to the character and their current situation. For me, one of the crucial things in a first person narrative, is the tone of the narrator, and how that helps me engage with them and their story. Kathy H, unfortunately, was not a character I was encouraged to be terribly interested in. I found her rather bland, uninteresting, and perhaps even a little self-absorbed. Though a few short divergents in the text indicate that she is writing as if someone is reading (things like "I don't know what it's like where you came from"), she doesn't seem particularly interested in engaging with us.

Kathy's recollections of her childhood and youth do not come to us in chronological order, which does save the uninspiring narrative voice somewhat - encouraging the reader to keep up with a stream of consciousness in your lead character is always a fun way of drawing them into a story. Learning about Kathy's life and world is interesting too, as a lot of the time we have to make our own links between the significance of certain events (Kathy, at least, seems to believe her readership has enough of a brain to follow where she's leading without needing a re-cap every three pages).

Hailsham itself is rather fascinating, although it may have been a little less so for me, as I happen to live in a boarding school instituation, and thus the novelty of such an environment had long since become normal. Little things seem to matter so much more to the characters there, and we find ourselves poking our noses through proverbial windows to wonder why. Unfortunately, the characters we follow were - I thought - rather uninspiring. Aside from Kathy, we only really meet two others in any great detail. While Tommy's childishly innocent approach to life is endearing at first, I very swiftly grew irritated with his cluelessness over even the most basic situations, and as for Ruth . . . maybe I saw too much of my own self-aggrandising side in her, because I spent more of the book than I would like to admit wishing to reach through the text and bash her face into a wall.

That said, however, the characters were very well presented, and realistic, given their circumstances. Even though I never grew fond of, or terribly interested in, any of the characters, it was fascinating to see how their sheltered, detached lifestyle altered their views on everything from food to clothes to more *ahem* intimate doings behind closed doors. Though the relationship that later develops between Kathy and Tommy was one of the most unrealistic romances I have ever read, their thought processes and background made the whole experience that bit more credible - not to mention creepy.

Overall, though, I would not rate this story as highly as many others might do - a three stars from a proverbial five, perhaps. While the setting and background is intriguing, the drab, unlikeable characters and hum-drum narrative style (there is never much sense of tension, or any emotion beyond the occasional unfriendly spat between the characters, thanks to Kathy's voice). This, coupled with the fact that the "alarming" plot twist at the end is presented in such an uninspiring way - not to mention the fact that most readers will probably have worked it all out by about ten chapters before we're supposed to - mean the story never quite achieves the shock and emotion it might otherwise have achieved.

"Never Let Me Go" is available from all major ebook and paper-book sources.

~Charley R

P.S. Don't forget to keep your "Writerly Tips" suggestions coming!


  1. I LOVE dystopian. I'm currently on Unwind by Neal Shusterman (which is turning out decidedly creepy). So I might just put this book on my list of to-reads. Though, if the character's aren't ideal, I'll be cautious. A book REALLY needs amazing and real characters, doesn't it?'s missing something vital. Like life.

    Good review too! I like the way you list the good parts and the bad parts and you never run down the book. Great writing! :)

    1. Eh, it's a dystopian, but definitely not one of the best ones - there are a lot of better books out there. If this is on your reading list, I'd evict it to somewhere near the bottom myself, haha!

      Thank you very much! :D

  2. Very nice review Charley. Well thought out and sicne you and I have similar tates I rpobably won't be picking it up (way to many more books in the genre' I write in to read and limited time too).

    Do you ever feel that being a writer, in some way, hinders us from enjoying the same books that the public give many awards to?

    Okay a more serious writerly tip... I don't think my last one was... hwo do you come up with govenrment politics that influence the background of the story (like the Errion and Skatha conflict).

    1. Hehe, thank you!

      Hmm, not really - I'm still a reader just as much as a writer, and I'd say being an author can make us more insightful in a way. As in, we can appreciate the techniques used and stuff like that :P

      Ooh, I like that too! So many good ideas running around now! Might need to write them all up and just space them out, haha!