I finished Never Let Me Go last night. Apparently I had such an intent look on my face my husband felt compelled to tell me now and then, “Don’t rush!”
The book is written in such a conversational and straightforward way that the disturbing subject matter barely ripples the surface. I felt emotionally distant from the story except for a part near the end when I got a little sad. But the emotional distance turned out to be an illusion, or a delusion, because when I closed the book and put it down I suddenly started crying. I was quite surprised and I realized I had been sucked in good. My Bookman was sitting in bed next to me and all he said was, “I know.” He read the book last summer and has been wonderful at keeping his mouth shut.
I love the way this book was written from Kath’s point of view. She is a student at Hailsham, an exclusive school somewhere in England. We only ever know what Kath knows as we follow her through school and her coming of age and leaving school. There are hints that all is not what it seems, that this isn’t just any boarding school. We gradually find out the truth and it is horrible. But what makes it even more horrible is that everyone in the book is so accepting and matter-of-fact about it, even the students. There is no horror for them. They understand but they don’t understand their fate and even when they do finally understand they don’t rebel. I wanted very badly someone to say no, to runaway, to challenge authority but it never happened.
I also liked that Ishiguro set the story in the present and near past. Even though the premise of the story is not at this moment possible, setting it in the present instead of the future made it more unsettling somehow. Perhaps he did this to keep us from thinking that the story could never happen, that it was in a future that would never be. And perhaps he wrote it in the present to point out that the possibility of the story is closer than we might think and so we had better start thinking, start debating the moral and ethical issues, take steps to keep the story from becoming real. Or perhaps he wrote the story in the present to point out the sad truth that the story is real, just not in the same context as the book.
I’m being purposely vague about the book because I don’t want to give away anything to anyone who has not read it. Revealing what the book is about wouldn’t ruin it, but it would ruin that gradually growing sense of horror I mentioned and I want you to have the opportunity to feel as sick as I felt when you figure out the truth. This is the first book by Ishiguro I’ve read. It definitely won’t be the last.