So, here’s the first thing you need to know about this book: I really can’t say too much about it because it will ruin the entire twist of the story for you. I was lucky enough to have seen and heard significant praise for this book by people who didn’t spoil anything. That being said, I want to keep this spoiler free, but still, try to convey to you what I loved about the writing and the story.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.
“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
My (spoiler-free) thoughts:
I will admit that I was not immediately hooked when I started reading this book. The plot unfolds slowly and Ishiguro presents you with a descriptive, idyllic English landscape. This seems totally unnecessary at the beginning. I found myself wondering why he would paint such a graphic picture alongside the day to day routines and interactions of the children at Hailsham. It just didn’t make sense to me and I found it slightly boring. For a while, I felt like I was missing something. As I mentioned before, this all comes together as you learn more about the children at Hailsham throughout the story. And man, it’s beautifully done. Ishiguro brilliantly parallels the scenic scapes of the English countryside with the haunting reality of the boarding school Kathy attends.
The narrative is told from Kathy’s point of view and weaves back and forth between her more distant memories at Hailsham, her recent memories as an adult, and her present-day thoughts. Kathy is reflecting back throughout the story, and Ishiguro does an exquisite job of revealing just enough to keep the truth behind Hailsham vague and mysterious, yet utterly intriguing. Relationships are a key component in the story. Kathy’s friendship with her Hailsham friends, Ruth and Tommy, inevitably changes and adapts with age, and even more so as they begin to understand their place in the world they live. Character development is REALLY important for me as a reader, even more than a good plot. I had a difficult time relating to the characters in the beginning when not much had been revealed. If you’re like me, I encourage you to push through. The character understanding really cannot happen for the reader until the very end of the book. As you learn more about the story’s reality, a character’s actions and thoughts become fully realized.
So much of my opinions about this novel were not fully developed immediately upon finishing the story. I thought about the message for days and even still am understanding more about the symbolism within the novel weeks later. Ultimately, Ishiguro will make you question your own judgments and beliefs. About what, you may ask? Unfortunately, even telling you that would ruin your experience with this novel. Ishiguro has skillfully crafted a utopian-like world that is, beneath the surface, unsettling and thought-provoking.
“It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
Have you read Never Let Me Go, or other novels by Kazuo Ishiguro? Tell me what you thought in the comments! But try not to spoil for others. 😉