Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

December 14, 2011 at 15:16 (Book Reviews, Dystopia, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Science Fiction) (, , , )


From the outset it is rather clear that for Ishiguro, the most important aspect of this work is its atmosphere; even before the decidedly dystopian plot, and even ahead of his devotion to sculpting intricate and interesting characters. In what is certainly a character-driven work, the most important character is Hailsham, the 1950s-styled boarding school, transplanted effortlessly forty years into the future and overlaid with dark secrets that are only darker for being so carelessly discussed and so frivolously and blithely made peripheral. Hailsham, with its grey and peeling facade and its feeling of being overcast even when sunny; like a half-remembered memory even when described in the present. It is this atmosphere, with its overtones of a long-past childhood memory of innocence, suddenly sullied, that pervades the book and remains throughout.

Speaking of innocence sullied, it is also worth noting that as this book dips into romance and, more properly, becomes a coming-of-age story, and although it deals with all sorts of sexual encounters between various characters, Ishiguro is gracious enough to do so at a distance, and without the sticky and graphic depictions that have become so fashionable of late. His focus, of course, is one of development, not of gratuitous sensuality.

“In any case he soon stopped and stood there, glaring after them, his face scarlet. Then he began to scream and shout, a nonsensical jumble of swear words and insults.”

-Never Let Me Go

It is admittedly difficult to find a niche in which to place this book, or a genre to define it. It is obviously deeply offensive to lovers of all literature when critics stand aghast and wonder why a “real” writer would dare to write in an unworthy genre (Sarah Kerr of the New York Times pedantically suggests Ishiguro is attempting to “upend [science fiction’s] banal conventions”). As if there were topics that “real” writers were unable to explore–or worse, that they were above exploring. But in what is quite clearly a science fiction masterpiece, Ishiguro remains rather distant from any of the tropes common to his chosen genre. He remains, in fact, stubbornly quiet on any real detail of his clone-filled dystopia, staying so far inside the heads of his characters as to offer only the vaguest hints: and then to offer only what they might have discovered.

It is once again that air of a guilty family secret that nobody–not even the author–dares talk about, and that nobody–not even the reader–wants to know the details of. That is the true measure of the success in this novel, and one of the key ways in which Ishiguro so successfully builds his atmosphere. It is real and frightening not only because of its verisimilitude, it is engaging not only because of Ishiguro’s melodious and poetic writing; but because the reader and writer partake of the same conspiracy as the characters and the world created in the book. An excellent novel, and well worth reading.


1 Comment

  1. kylegebhart said,

    this book is one of the most beautiful tragedies I’ve ever encountered. I’ve read and re-read it three times now.

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