Never Let Me Go
I added Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go to my reading list when novelist Ingrid Hill (whose Ursula, Under impressed me so; read my review here) noted it last year at the Festival of Faith and Writing as one of two novels exceptionally deft in their handling of place. (The second was Ian McEwen’s Saturday—still on my list.) I casually mentioned this to my friend Rachel over the holidays while we were browsing at a local indie bookstore, and to my surprise, a copy arrived in the mail for my birthday. (Don’t you love friends like that?!) Thus it was that I came to read this elegantly disturbing story by the author better known for his Booker-winning novel, The Remains of the Day.
Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H., 31, a “carer” whose recently-renewed friendships with Ruth and Tommy prompt her to reexamine their childhoods growing up together at a mysterious English boarding house known as Hailsham. Their guardians had pressed them to pursue art and sports, to hold themselves to high standards, to understand that they were different from other children, special. Kathy and Tommy develop quiet theories as to the nature of their specialness, but isolated as they are without points of comparison, these theories remain incidental, vague questions to ponder on rainy afternoons. Only later, when Ruth has passed from the scene and Kathy and Tommy attempt to delay the inevitable, do they finally confront the mysteries of Hailsham and its guardians.
This is a remarkably-controlled atmospheric thriller in which the reader is held in suspense not so much about how it will end but how it all began. Even when somewhere early on I solved the overarching mystery, I remained constrained to discover how and when each of the characters had come (or would come) to realize their role; and the questions left deliberately unanswered produce a lingering eeriness. This is the best kind of spine tingling, the sort that gets theologians and biologists on their feet debating life and death and what it means to be human and in what ways we are responsible to and for each other.
So thanks to Ingrid and Rachel for introducing me to this book. In addition to creeping me out in the most thoughtful way, you’ve compelled me to add the author’s other titles to my ever-expanding TBR list: The Remains of the Day (I love the film but haven’t read the book), A Pale View of the Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans…
If anyone needs me, I’ll be reading.