Book Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
By: Kazuo Ishiguro
Published By: Vintage Books
Publication Date: March 14, 2006
Page Count: 288
Source: audiobook via library
Audience/Genre: Adult Fiction
 Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Never Let Me Go is lovely and subtle and perfect and wonderful. I adore Kazuo Ishiguro for trusting his readers to pick up on the nuances and details he weaves into this tragic story of love, friendship, sacrifice, and humanity. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are all vivid and real, as is the fantastic and elite word of Hailsham, the boarding school where they're raised along with other children just like them. 

I swear this isn't a reviewer cop-out, but I risk ruining the story, and the consuming experience of reading and descending into the world Ishiguro creates, by giving too much away. Most of the story is told in vivid and detailed flashbacks, as Kathy remembers her time growing up and directly after leaving Hailsham, the arts-based, altruistic school where she was raised. Although things at Hailsham seem idyllic, there is an underlying unease you feel as a reader. There is something not quite right that you, as an adult, pick up on but Kathy as a child seems completely blind to. 

The story is amazing, but the characters also shine in this book. Ruth is Kathy's best friend and counterpoint at Hailsham and beyond -- where Ruth is direct, Kathy is passive; where Ruth is selfish, Kathy is benevolent; where Ruth lies, Kathy cannot help but tell the truth. Everyone knows or has known, a kid like Tommy, who is angry at the world, until he matures and finds a way to come to terms with his insecurities. Miss Emily and Miss Lucy, teachers at Hailsham, are as diverse as they are detailed, and I cannot neglect to mention the mysterious Madame, who arrives like clockwork to collect and remove the children's art work.

I've read a ton of debate on what genre this book falls into -- dystopian, coming of age, Literature (with the capital L), science fiction, and horror, with Ramsey Campbell claiming is is a "classic instance of a story that's horrifying, precisely because the narrator doesn’t think it is." -- but coming of age is what I think fits best. There are define holes in the science of the story, but that's SO not what this book is about. The subtlety with which Ishiguro weaves in bits of the mythology in this world is (literally, at times) breathtaking. I appreciate an author who trusts his/her readers to pick up nuances and details, and who can abandon the need for dramatic, winding, lead-ups and epic reveals. 

This is a must read for everyone I know.


Summary via 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.


  1. The ending's already been spoiled for me, but I've heard amazing things about this book and I really want to read it. There was a lot of hype over a movie a few years ago, too.

    1. So much of the beauty is in the writing, not necessarily the plot...I say give it a go. :) I think I'd have still enjoyed it just as much if I already knew the ending.

  2. I can't believe this book has been out so long without me having read it!


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