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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Prediction: In fifty years, Never Let Me Go will be looked back upon in a similarly reverent fashion that we, here in 2010, look back upon Huxley's Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, and Orwell's 1984. It's that good -- an instant classic in my book.  I think what's most remarkable about this novel, and what elevates it into its rare Orwellian air, lies in the hidden intrigue outside its pages, in what Kazuo Ishiguro does not explicity state; the unmentioned mystery we don't even know is a mystery until we get a nagging sense that something very strange, something not quite right, is afoot here.
cover of first ed., 2005
Ishiguro describes a boarding school --Hailsham-- and follows the lives over time of several characters who lived and studied there, relaying their experiences from the first person perspective of one of its former students, Kathy, and her take on their experiences together. But that is all Ishiguro reveals to us; we do not know the full backdrop to the story nor the behind-the-scenes sociopolitics which made the existence of a place like Hailsham possible in the first place.

We witness what appears an ordinary boarding school at first glance, slowly, almost imperceptibly (like trying to see clouds move on a windless day), transform before our eyes into a boarding school straight out of The X-Files, as subtle clues, hints and ominous foreshadowings become revealed.

Something's obviously amiss in this parentless world of boarding school students, something (but what?) is slightly askew here, off kilter, Outer Limitish. And once we fully fathom the world Ishiguro has depicted here, using spare prose that remains elegant and poetic and all the more profound in its childlike understatedness, full of deep longing and innocence, a haunting sense of first disquiet, then disbelief, then sadness, and, for me (and maybe you too) moral outrage soon ensues. How dare they!? How dare they do that to them!

Never Let Me Go is loaded with chilling philosophical/ethical dilemnas and spiritual quagmires examining both a deplorable caste system that, to me, isn't much different than what the ancient Mayans did to appease their gods of earth and water, and casts a lot of gray on an already gray ethical dividing line separating humanity from inhumanity, good from evil. What Ishiguro accomplishes in his subtle social commentaries is reminiscent of what Rod Serling evoked in his thought provoking Twilight Zone vignettes. Deep, creative, hits-you-in-the-gut story telling.

Describing the plot in greater detail would ruin the experience of Never Let Me Go. I had the misfortune of seeing a certain tag for this novel before I read it and so knew beforehand what the "big deal" was. I wish I hadn't seen that stupid tag (or maybe it was a blurb), because the slow mind blowing waves of realization when they break upon you in creepy ripples of realization of what you've been reading about and witnessing all this time, would've hurt a lot worse had I entered the novel naive. Therefore, I recommend reading Never Let Me Go ignorant of its designs, aware only that once you do know what Hailsham and its students represent, you might wish you didn't.

Postscript on the title: The title's taken from a song the protagonist, Kathy, discovered on a cassete tape and loved as a child. The song, "Never Let Me Go," touched her deeply. The title, of course, is the core pun of the novel. I want to say more, but don't want to ruin the experience for the uninitiated of Never Let Me Go. Don't read anything about the book, except this blog entry, before reading the book, is my advice.


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