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What I Think: A Review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Aside from having one of the best names in contemporary British Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro is an unforgettable writer. I've read two of this books, and both were thought-provoking and original.

The book that I've got in my cross-hairs today is Never Let Me Go. It's not a new book, but I haven't run into too many people who've read it, which really is a shame.

Never Let Me Go centers on Tommy, Kathy, and Ruth, who are schoolmates at an exclusive British boarding school called Hailsham. Their lives are different than most children, but the reasons for this exclusivity aren't immediately obvious. As the three grow and prepare for life after Hailsham, they must come to terms with their destinies as carers and then donors--as they are clones grown and designed to keep the rest of the population healthy.

I don't want to give away too much else concerning the plot because it is intricate and devastating in its totality, but this book would be a wonderful choice for a high school or college literature class or for a book club.

I've read this book three times, and every time, I'm not sure how to feel at the end because there are so many questions left unanswered:

  • Is it okay for science to allow one person (or a very small group) to suffer if the rest of the population can benefit greatly from that suffering?
  • Could you ever prepare yourself for death at a young age when you're otherwise healthy and happy?
  • Is cloning of humans ever okay? What if it could cure cancer forever? What if it could promise long life for all non-clones?
  • If you had the ability to live forever, but had to use clone donations, would you?
  • Are clones still fully human?
  • What's more important: friendship or romantic love?
Like Ishiguro's other books, Never Let Me Go is a quiet book. There aren't any huge peaks and valleys in the action--instead, the book slowly unfolds, bit by bit until you see the world just as the Hailsham students do. 

Some people call this book "dystopian" or "science fiction." While I can see how both of those labels might be applied to Never Let Me Go, I think you'd be mistaken to pick up (or ignore) the book because of them. It has elements of dytopian and science fiction, but it also has elements of scientific theory, boarding school literature, and bildungsroman (coming of age) stories.

It's definitely not The Hunger Games or Divergent--Ishiguro's setting of modern Britain looks similar to our current reality. But that's why the creeping, thought-provoking horror of what these three characters are expected to do seems so, so much worse. It's practically our society at this very moment with only minor changes...but what a difference those minor changes make to our moral structure. 

If you're looking for a deeply moving but unique take on a contemporary scientific argument, add Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go to your list of books to read.

If you liked this, you might also like:
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
  • Ian McEwan, Solar
  • Patrick McGrath, The Grotesque

This review is part of an ongoing series that I write from time to time; if you like this review, definitely check out the others! 

Have you read Never Let Me Go? What book should I read next?