By Brenna English-Loeb
Booker Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro (for his 1989 “The Remains of the Day“) has come to the fore of the literary scene once more with his striking “Never Let Me Go.” Ishiguro’s delicate, precise prose is again at work with his trademark style of novels based on reminiscence. The memories of Kathy H. flow from one scene to another practically seamlessly, transporting the reader through her short life, each scene raising just as many questions as it answers about Kathy’s strange world. “Never Let Me Go” moves along so swiftly, readers will be totally engrossed and wish to finish the novel in one sitting.
It is hard to give even a brief account of “Never Let Me Go” without giving away one of the novel’s integral conditions, but the slow realization of this specific plot point is part of what makes the work so masterful. Kathy H. tells the dreamlike and somewhat disjointed story of her youth growing up at Hailsham, a boarding school-esque establishment in England in the 90s. She has two very important friends from Hailsham, Ruth and Tommy, who grow together and learn to navigate harsh realities of their situation. The unsettling conceit is that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy’s experience of the world is not quite like ours, though it is parallel to it.
The characters of the three protagonists are revealed in poignant episodes without being obviously sentimental. There are several influential teachers at Hailsham, notably Miss Lucy and Miss Emily, who have a somewhat ambivalent role in the protagonists‘ lives and yet also remain sympathetic.
Part of Ishiguro’s success with his characterization stems from the solid background of this parallel world he has created. Every detail is specific and meaningful, full of a personal lore deeply entrenched in his main character’s personality. Sometimes, due to the limitations brought on by the first person narrative, the reader can wish for more concrete information rather than passing remarks.The world Ishiguro has created is clearly a rich one, but somehow it remains outside the complete grasp of the reader’s comprehension, somewhat frustratingly mirroring Kathy’s own incomplete understanding.
Ishiguro does not weigh down his prose with pages of exposition, which greatly aids the novel’s flow.Ishiguro successfully avoids the pitfalls of many dystopian novels where characters improbably attempt to lead a cultural revolution. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy do not try to do any such thing. They just try to live.
“Never Let Me Go” has recently been adapted into a movie, directed by Mark Romanek and starring Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Keira Knightley as Ruth and Andrew Garfield as Tommy.