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Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

Faber & Faber

UK Hardcover First Edition

ISBN 0-571-22411-3

Publication Date: March 2005

Pages; Price: 263; £15.99

Date Reviewed: 01-12-04

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2004



General Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery

'Never Let Me Go' is the long-awaited new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It has been five years since Ishiguro's last novel, but his latest is well worth the long wait. Brilliantly written, it is a cleverly understated account of the lives of three children growing up together. It is also a hard-hitting comment upon one of the great scientific debates of current times; genetic engineering. It is a novel that keeps you turning the pages, leaves a great deal to think about when it is finished and is well worth reading over again.

The story is told by one of the children, Kath. Now in her early thirties, she is looking back upon her childhood relationship with her two closest friends, Ruth and Tommy. On the face of it, this is a novel about three children who formed a close bond whilst at a boarding school, a bond that continued into their adult lives. However, their seemingly idyllic childhood is not all that it appears. As Kath's memories unfold, more and more is revealed about the reality of these children's lives. Kath's story is about her journey to discover who she really is and we, the readers, are treated to those revelations as they came to her and her friends. From the opening pages, it is clear that life at the Hailsham boarding school is not typical of English boarding schools. Ishiguro presents the reader with a picture of life that makes little sense, but because Kath is telling the story and she, as a child, was unaware that her life was different from other children, we are given no answers to the inevitable questions that arise. It is only as Kath's own curiosity is aroused that we are allowed to find some answers. At the same time, the full extent of the mystery is only slowly revealed as Kath herself begins to understand that Hailsham and its students are rather special. Just as it seems that the mystery has been unraveled, so another question is raised and goes unanswered, creating a truly compelling story. Ishiguro demonstrates his mastery of the art of writing. He has created a truly believable person in Kath and through her he is able to present a story of mystery and revelation almost without the reader being aware of the literary tricks to which they are subject.

'Never Let Me Go' is more than a well-written mystery; it is also a powerful contribution to current scientific debate. However, it never appears as such. Ishiguro clearly has strong views upon the topic of genetic engineering, but this novel is not a soapbox for them. He has instead chosen to look at the issue through the eyes of a protagonist who is seldom considered in the debate. The sensitivity and imagination he displays is such that a subject that could have been highly charged with emotion is treated in a distant, almost cool light. By resisting the temptation to enter the debate with a dramatic, heartrending account, Ishiguro enhances the emotional impact of his novel. The characters themselves offer no comment upon their lives, leaving the reader to form their own attachments and deliver their consequent judgment upon the issue. In this way, the reader is not forced into a particular point of view, but it is almost certain that, whichever side of the debate they support, they will approach this issue from a wholly different perspective.

'Never Let Me Go' is a novel to be enjoyed on a host of different levels. Ishiguro displays his talent for creating believable characters and places that feel truly real. He also offers a mystery that remains fascinating right up until the final chapter. If that were not sufficient, this is a powerful book that asks us to re-examine serious moral and ethical issues, leaving a great deal to think about long after the final page has been read.