But it was such a great read that I couldn't let it go unacknowledged on Radiator Tunes. I was initially drawn in by the trailer for the 2010 film version of the story. Dark, haunting, and slightly ominous, I figured it'd be safest to read the book first. Though the premise is rather bleak, Ishiguro's narrative style is engaging and absorbing in the best possible way.
The novel is shrouded in mystery so I'll leave as many of those secrets hidden for you to uncover as possible. From the outset we meet our narrator Kathy H. who introduces herself as a carer near the end of her long 11-year term. She doesn't offer much more by way of a job description until much later in the book - but discovering the full nature of a carer's work is just one portion of the puzzle we are constantly piecing together. She takes us back to her time at Hailsham, a school of sorts where the students are made to constantly churn out art of all sorts and their exceptionality is continually reinforced by their guardians. Enter Ruth and Tommy, two fellow students who we meet early on but whose importance we fail to fully recognize until much later.
Kathy regales us with tales of her Hailsham days, from the highs to the lows all sheathed by a veil of mystique and uncertainty. Despite his outsider status among fellow students, Tommy looks to Kathy as a confidante and the two make a pattern of sharing with one another all the odd comments made by guardians to which they are privy. Ruth is a girl by whom all the others want to be accepted. Having so much social clout, Ruth becomes quite manipulative, but nonetheless is still Kathy's closest female friend. From there we learn of the unspoken rules that govern behavior at Hailsham, of the much-anticipated Sales when outside items are brought in for purchase, of the frigid Madame who comes to take away the students' art, and the mysterious gallery where these pieces supposedly end up.
The novel is described by some as science fiction, by others as a mystery, and still others could argue it a drama. I find elements of all within and hate to pigeonhole this book. It offers a multi-faceted look at innocence in our changing world, of the ethical implications of our social decisions, of the universality of relationships and maturation. I have to hold myself back from speaking to innumerable other compelling aspects of the novel so as not to ruin the pleasure of unfolding the mystery if and when you read it for yourself. Though I've only been able to reveal the smallest portion of the details, Ishiguro's brilliantly crafted Never Let Me Go is not to be missed.
And if you can't take my word for it, here are a few bits and pieces of acclaim for the novel. Whenever I found myself browsing the book's first few pages full of praise for Ishiguro, I was impressed by the seemingly effortless beauty and accuracy of these reviews. The talent some of these reviewers have for the craft of writing was nearly as impressive to me as the very novel itself. Here are a few of the best.
"One of our subtlest observers, a writer who takes enormous gambles, then uses his superior gifts to manage the risk as tightly as possible... A feat of imaginative sympathy and technique... The eeriest feature of this alien world is how familiar it feels." - The New York Times Book Review
"A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel.... Graceful and grim, the novel never hardens into anything as clear-cut as allegory but it resonates with disquieting suggestiveness." - The Sunday Times (London)
"[An] elegant nightmare of a novel... At once a cautionary tale of science gone awry and a movingly sympathetic portrait of lost souls." - Forbes