Vintage International/Random House
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.
Kathy is a former student of Hailsham, a boarding school for clones destined to complete their lives with a series of donations. When Kathy becomes a carer for two childhood friends, Tommy and Ruth, she reminisces about their years together at Hailsham and later, as adolescents, at the Cottages. When Tommy and Kathy take a chance to request a deferment of their donations, they learn the truth about their existence--and futures.
I know this book has gotten rave reviews since it came out in 2005, and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, but in all honesty, I really can't see why. Not to rip on Ishiguro who is the renown author of Remains of the Day and several other well-regarded books, but the concept of clones being reared for the purpose of harvesting their organs to keep "regular" humans alive isn't new. It's been the subject of science fiction books and films for years. What makes Never Let Me Go different than most clone novels is that this is a "literary" work, focusing on the characters' relationships to each other and the inner discovery of their place in the world rather than on the science or the horror or the shock of what actually happens to them in the operating room.
Never Let Me Go is a subtle exploration of the perceived value of human life. Who decides which sort of human is more valuable than another? The questions it raises are important ones, but the story fails to elicit enough empathy for the characters to really pluck at readers' consciences. What is this book saying? Is it a statement against human cloning, a suggestion of a possibly dystopian future if cloning is pursued? Or is it a broader examination of the value of life in general, and therefore to be applied to contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment? The problem for me is that the book does not go far enough. It poses the question and then abandons it. I suppose for some, this is precisely what makes this book so wonderful. And maybe if this were the only problem, I'd accept that explanation. But I also found the story rather boring. Sorry. But I did. I kept waiting for something amazing to happen, something worthy of the comment on the back cover that describes it as "alarming." But aside from the massive info dump in the final chapters of the book, nothing ever happens. The characters never fully connect emotionally with one another or with the reader.
Again I suppose those who love this book are drawn to its simplicity and bare-bones storytelling, and I use storytelling purposely. This long string of recollections is a very good example of telling as opposed to showing.
Okay. I'm done ranting. I guess I just get annoyed when so-so books get rewarded simply because they are written by an author who wrote wonderful books in the past. This one didn't cut it for me, and I realize that many people will disagree with me on this. That's okay. And I know I'll get in trouble for criticizing a popular award-winning book, but again, I'm entitled to my opinion, right? But I will say this: If you enjoy truly literary works that are heavy on subtly and extremely light on action, suspense or surprise, this book is for you. Otherwise, you might prefer the movie version.