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Never Let Me Go Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2005
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All children should believe they are special. But the students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny. Kazuo Ishiguro's sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, is a masterpiece of indirection. Like the students of Hailsham, readers are "told but not told" what is going on and should be allowed to discover the secrets of Hailsham and the truth about these children on their own.
Offsetting the bizarreness of these revelations is the placid, measured voice of the narrator, Kathy H., a 31-year-old Hailsham alumna who, at the close of the 1990s, is consciously ending one phase of her life and beginning another. She is in a reflective mood, and recounts not only her childhood memories, but her quest in adulthood to find out more about Hailsham and the idealistic women who ran it. Although often poignant, Kathy's matter-of-fact narration blunts the sharper emotional effects you might expect in a novel that deals with illness, self-sacrifice, and the severe restriction of personal freedoms. As in Ishiguro's best-known work, The Remains of the Day, only after closing the book do you absorb the magnitude of what his characters endure. --Regina Marler
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–The elegance of Ishiguro's prose and the pitch-perfect voice of his narrator conspire to usher readers convincingly into the remembered world of Hailsham, a British boarding school for special students. The reminiscence is told from the point of view of Kathy H., now 31, whose evocation of the sheltered estate's sunlit rolling hills, guardians, dormitories, and sports pavilions is imbued with undercurrents of muted tension and foreboding that presage a darker reality. As an adult, Kathy re-engages in lapsed friendships with classmates Ruth and Tommy, examining the details of their shared youth and revisiting with growing awareness the clues and anecdotal evidence apparent to them even as youngsters that they were different from everyone outside. [...] Ishiguro conveys with exquisite sensitivity the emotional texture of the threesome's relationship, their bonds of personal loyalty that overcome fractures of trust, the palpable boundaries of hope, and the human capacity for forgiveness. Highly recommended for literary merit and as an exceptional platform for the discussion of a controversial topic.–Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA
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Everything about this narrator's world was odd and had a obvious disturbing vibe to it. What is even more terrifying is that I can see this happening in our future with the rapid advancements in technology. If that day comes, our values and morals will be put to the test when we try to define what is ethical and what is not.
This story reminded me of the animal agriculture industry in a lot of ways. We refuse to know what's going on when it comes to how meat and dairy products reach our plates so we put up walls and gates to hide us from the terrible truth.
In this scenario, clones have been created to harvest anything and everything from their bodies in order to save "real humans" from dying from diseases. About maybe 60% through the book, I started to understand what was happening. These 'students' were being raised for slaughter. The narrator was lucky to actually have somewhat of a "normal" upbringing while others were in far worse conditions.
It scares me to think that this could happen. These students had feelings, emotions, intelligence, etc. yet were treated like animals being ready to be killed. They were taught at a very young age that they would be donators. Everything about it was normalized in a way they didn't see it as problem. They believed that's how it has always been and nothing is wrong with it. They even have the students be the care takers for the donors because no one wants to see the suffering and pain the donors have to go through. How messed up is that?
I also found the relationships hard to swallow. What they thought of as friendships and love, were not anywhere near it. However, that's all they've known. Any difficult or deep conversation was immediately shunned so surface conversation was the only acceptable way to communicate. I thought Kath and Ruth's friendship was toxic in a lot of ways. It was almost as if they didn't know how to treat a friend. The one great example that I saw was in the Cottages. Ruth had two identities: the one that completely ignored Kath and Tommy and desired attention from the veterans and then the one that sat with Kath at night, spilling secrets and such. I think this is why Kath remained friends with her even though Ruth treated her so terribly. Her whole life she had to constantly filter herself but in those hours of sipping tea with no filter, it gave her some sort of relief. It allowed her to be a more truer form of herself.
Overall, I thought the book was incredibly mind provoking. I wish there was a happy ending but ultimately, we only receives answers rather than Kath, Tommy, and Ruth riding off into the sunset.
I found myself pretty detached while reading this...not in my usually hurry to finish and see how the characters and story developed. Perhaps that was part of the author’s effort? I’m not sure.
Our narrator, Kathy, was detached as well. Detached from her own experiences and even somewhat detached from the losses she experiences.
Only Tommy, who would sometimes give into rages, seemed to FEEL the appropriate outrage at times. But then it would get tucked back inside and hidden.
Tommy’s art is what I found most interesting and distinctive. The fact that he quit trying for awhile because his art was ‘no good’ but then later, while his art was still different... it became so stylized and small...maybe mechanical, but precise. I think Tommy’s art and the precision of it shows that each of these people is precise. So many little parts make us into who we are...
In the end, I found this book sad. It’s another testament of man’s inhumanity towards man. If we can make ourselves believe someone is ‘less than’ we are, in any way, then we can justify our mistreatment. The fact that we do it ‘in the name of science’ doesn’t work for me. I guess I believe in the soul. I believe in the sanctity of people... of life.
I'm not sure why Ishiguro made some of the choices he did. The restraint employed in telling the story added to the uneasy sense of fate closing in but also distanced me from the sad outcomes of the characters. In contrast to the slow-going narration of the first 250 pages, the climactic scene includes a gush of narrative explanation that seemed clumsy and tacked on. Like other readers, I was disturbed by the complete passivity of the characters. On the other hand, a less literal reading suggests that the book is not about the exploitation of human clones at all but about the mundane ways most people muddle through their lives and blindly accept their fates.
"Never Let Me Go" reminded me of a great episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" called "The Measure of a Man." It involved the character Data, an android, having to prove his sentience to avoid being declared Starfleet property and being dismantled by order of a government bureaucrat. The stories are a little different, yet issues like the state's abuse of power, the value of artificial life - in this book, human clones - and the dignity of all life are similar. The TV show handled these themes compellingly in a 1-hour episode that haunts me 25 years after seeing it. As well-intentioned as the author is, I don't think that will be the case for this book.
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