Updated on August 5, 2015
29. ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ll admit it, I watched the film first. A long time ago, in fact. Wallowing in teenage-esque self-indulgence (I was not a teen) I watched it alone in my bedroom and sobbed and sobbed and got up to lock the door so nobody would walk in on my puffy face. Afterwards I read this quote which, I think, comes from Andrew Garfield who played Tommy: “It’s like [Ishiguro] stabs you in the heart, but you don’t realise it till four days later.” That is, I think, the best way to describe what this masterful writer does with ‘Never Let Me Go’.
Ishiguro’s tone is so gentle and his language so straightforward that it’s easy to think you’re reading a fairly ‘simple’ story. The narrator, Kathy, speaks with unflinching honesty and at a certain distance from her own emotions (the distance of years, most of the time). But for all of its simplicity, this book is just heart wrenching.
Tommy, Kathy and Ruth are students at Hailsham, a very special school where all the students are raised for a special purpose. I won’t reveal that purpose, or the ‘twist’ at the end, but knowing them didn’t spoil the book for me. In fact, knowing what was coming for the characters possibly added to the poignancy and I think the movie is faithful enough that it won’t ruin the book if you happen to watch it first. There is no ‘Bang! This is the big reveal’ moment. Instead, just as for the characters, the understanding of what they are seeps in gradually and that’s why Garfield’s quote is so relevant. You read it, you accept it, you put the book down, you think about it, and then the reality hits you in the stomach. And it hurts.
Of course, what it means for the characters seems at first to be too awful to bear, but it bears such a perfect relation to what the human condition is anyway that, by the end, I felt the same calm acceptance as Kathy. The whole story builds up, little by little, and you don’t notice until you’re buried in it like a snow drift. It’s a story about creativity, love, hope, desperation, indoctrination and real life. For me, it’s damn near perfect.
“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”
I’ve already read ‘The Remains of the Day’ and I can certainly see a certain melancholy current running through both of these books by Ishiguro. I would definitely, definitely read more by him. He gets the emotional pitch of his stories spot on.
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?