Summary: The book is narrated by a thirty year old woman, Kathy, who has been a carer for twelve years now. She is looking back on her life in this post-war world. Kathy and her friend Ruth were students of a special boarding school “Hailsham.” They spent their childhoods there, with the teachers (guardians) being the only people they had in their lives apart from themselves; they had no families and weren’t even allowed outside the school. The children were different from the people outside, you know, the “normal people”, though none of them knew why. Kathy reminisces about her past, about bonding with the misfit Tommy, losing him to sassy little Ruth, the quiet loneliness that followed, and other seemingly little incidents that build up to the moment when the students realize what fate has in store for them in the outside world. Kathy talks about meeting Tommy and Ruth years later, as their carer and helping them through their donations. Kathy is now about to quit being a carer and finally become a donor herself.
Never Let Me Go was so sad. Great, but very sad. It was depressing, it just got more depressing and more truthful with every page and the ending was so honest, it hurt. I liked it, of course and here’s why.
Most post-apocalyptic, dystopian books try to be suspenseful and fail. The plots follow a kind of formula: where there’s this post-tragedy futuristic world that’s supposedly working just fine, until our protagonist starts to not-fit-in and soon realizes that under the facade of a very well-functioning society lies this whole underground community of rebels. More often than not, the protagonist joins them and almost always, fails in overthrowing the system or loses something of himself in his attempt. Sure, dystopian fiction calls for this pessimistic, “Oh God, is this really how the world’s going to end up?” and tragic “No, wait, the world already is kind of like this, isn’t it?” flurry of reactions. But an author putting a lot of trouble into making the plot suspenseful, when we all know this is going to happen, gets tiring after a while. The thing that irritated me to no end in The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, was that very silly withholding of information. I couldn’t focus on anything, but that aura of mystery the narrator kept trying to create. It was a very childish technique of keeping someone interested, which combined with the overly obvious “message”, just didn’t have much of an impression on me. Deliberately misleading the readers into thinking something else, while employing the formula anyway is not very creative (unless it’s something like I am Legend, all the planning usually just gets in the way of actually sending across a message.)
What’s creative is coming up with a whole new approach to the story, which is what I think Ishiguro has done here. He’s never kept the pretense of “mystery”. It’s quite clear from the very beginning why the children are ‘special’, why they’re at Hailsham and how they’re going to end up. If you haven’t already guessed, I won’t say what, but I can promise you, you’ll guess before you reach even the seventh page. The narrator, Kathy, assumes we know, since we’re from such a school ourselves and focuses on her story, instead. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, the point of Never Let Me Go, the message that the author was trying to get across, seemed rather subtle. The characters in this book, quite maudlin and immature in their ideas, told a lot more than an unlikely hero would have.
The book made me think about what ‘doing good’ means, about double standards and how people like to believe in the ultimate good, even though we’re all just as confused as the next person. Do we try to believe our life makes sense only to gain some semblance of control, as we stand on the edge of an infinite pit of darkness, desperately trying to keep our balance. The book has no fairy tale ending. It just leaves a lingering feeling of helplessness that characterizes the lives of the people in the book, not to mention, our own lives. A loss of control that can only be dealt with by acceptance.