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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – a dystopian novel which explores horrifying themes of cloning and organ donation through the eyes of Kathy.

This tale is told from the perspective of protagonist Kathy, a carer and soon to be donor, in an alternate 1990’s. Set in a school named Hailsham, and then later the Cottages, you could be fooled into thinking you are dealing with a society not too far removed from your own. Like all good dystopian science fiction, the novel lulls you into false sense of security and then reveals a dark, sinister underbelly. 

The novel is rooted around the system of society in which clones are raised to be a donor, who are then harvested for organs through a series of donations. Once these individuals have had their bodies harvested to a fatal point, they then ‘complete’ and pass away.

The novel by Ishiguro could easily be perceived to focus on the love triangle between the core characters of Ruth, Tommy and Kathy. To Kathy, this is a painful and integral part of her life, Ishiguro manages to create a world in which despite having to go through immense cruelty, their is still a sense of ‘normality’ in the lives of the main characters.

Deep beneath the tones of jealousy and desire between the three characters, lies a tangible tension that really gets across the oppressive and sinister society that they live within. However, Ishiguro’s mastery lies in the ability to make this felt clearly and painfully as a reader, whilst the characters within the story barely acknowledge it. 

The narrative is complex and consequently makes the characters difficult to trust

The conversations between the characters are confusing and peculiar, inviting you to challenge the authority of knowledge given to you. The narrative of the novel twists and turns, so that whilst you may come close to a resolution or understanding, you are quickly deflected, and consequently you push all previous musings to the back of your mind. 

In addition, the characters within the novel have a sense of ‘normal’ with the current cloning/donation process, which really does make you quite uneasy throughout. They do not see that the way they are being forced to live their lives is horrifying.

As readers, prepare to be constantly in suspension, up on the tightrope, with the love story as a way of distracting you from the gnashing shark of truth below. The story progresses, injecting you with snippets of information, hidden in variations of subtlety so that you are placed in a state of bewilderment, much like the students of Hailsham. 

Why you should read it

Like many dystopian novels, Never Let Me Go left me with an imprint in my mind for several days after finishing the book. 

This is not to say that the novel is dislikeable, as I actually really engaged with the story, I didn’t want to put the book down. I found that the novel was extremely enticing, its threads of subtlety tie themselves around your wrists, and you cannot escape the overwhelming desire to ask more, to scream at the character’s innocence, and to try to relive the situations all over again in the hope you can influence the outcome.

While the novel is fictional, it strikes fear within the reader because it questions the human race and our moral, physical and emotional capabilities. This novel causes you to question the very essence of human life, who has the right to control and monitor it, and the lengths that we will go to protect it.

If you enjoy novels that are emotionally provocative and moving, it’s definitely one for you.

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