Never Let Me Go

IshiguroI find Kazuo Ishiguro unpredictable, which could be why I am always intrigued to read his work, I loved his recent collection of short stories Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, yet I could not finish and had to abandon The Unconsoled and sadly I feel ambivalent about Never Let Me Go, though I do want to see how it was put to film.

It is not a book to share much about the plot, as virtually anything said might spoil the reading experience, but it is effectively a coming of age story centred around the character of Kathy, from her teenage into young adult years, from the last year she and others lived in a boarding school until the early days of her first job as a carer.  She looks back and analyses that time in an effort to understand the significance of minor details and events in their lives and her friendships with Ruth and Tommy.

I think my ambivalence stems from what seemed like restraint from delving into the depths of the characters, which could be a consequence of both the plot and the narrative form, however in my opinion, this constituted a weakness and I remained far too conscious of this lack all the way through reading. The repetitive nature of the narrative style also contributed to this and I found it annoying, it was a tool that could have intrigued, but when it didn’t succeed to do that for this reader, it became frustrating.

It is telling that I did not highlight any paragraphs or phrases as I read and that it took two weeks to read it. As you can see from the photo above, taken at the airport in Marseille, I finally finished it during a two-hour flight!

Just Dive In - My early morning dip at Sausset-les-Pins this summer

Just Dive In – My early morning dip at Sausset-les-Pins this summer

However, do not let me put you off. I recommend if you are a fan of Ishiguro that you just dive in and read it without referring to any reviews and remember that the majority of readers who have already read this book, rate it highly. I am an anomaly. I am looking forward to his next work and still have fond memories of that short story collection and am reassured in the knowledge that he is capable of work that is much more my kind of thing.

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37 thoughts on “Never Let Me Go

  1. Beautiful review, Claire! Sorry to know that you didn’t like ‘Never Let Me Go’ as much as you had hoped to. I have read only one book by Ishiguro, ‘The Remains of the Day’, and I liked it very much when I read it. I have ‘The Unconsoled’ in my bookshelf and I hope to read it some day. (Sorry to know that you couldn’t finish that one). Your comment that you are an anomaly (with respect to your thoughts on this book) made me smile 🙂 I would say though that you are very inspiring because you disagreed with the majority and explained why you did. Though you didn’t enjoy the book much, I enjoyed reading your review very much. Hope you like your next Ishiguro book more.

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    • Thank you for your kind words Vishy, even if it wasn’t a favourite I like the challenge of writing a review about a book that didn’t push my reading buttons, hopefully without putting people off and I will be happy to have a few comments from those who enjoyed the book, to tempt those who have not read it yet. It seems like Nocturnes and Never Let Me Go are at opposite ends of the pleasure spectrum, I suspect the short stories might be more your thing, from the way you too love to highlight passages in books.

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  2. I’d have to agree with you. Admittedly, I only read Never Let Me Go because I wanted to watch the film (I refuse to watch any film before reading the book first), but I was quite disappointed, maybe my expectations were too high. The idea behind it is good, it made me think about the near-future and life on a more deeper, philosophical level, but as a novel, I found all the characters quite annoying – I didn’t like any of them. I wanted to like Kathy so much, but she came across too weak and too feeble to the point where I couldn’t champion her. The film is ok though – bleek but at least there’s a bit of eye candy with Andrew Garfield!

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    • That’s an interesting distinction between what works and how we enjoy something purely as a novel, as a reading experience, and then how it makes us think. I found Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life a bit like that, the thought process it provoked was a significant element in my enjoyment of the book, I couldn’t even write the review for a couple of weeks as I was unsure about the actual story itself.

      I’m looking forward to seeing the film, I remember Ewan McGregor in The Island, which was excellent and I do wonder if recalling this story affected my reading of Ishiguro.

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  3. You are not an anomaly, there are others who struggled with this book, me. This book did put me off Ishiguro. I was swept away by the book and movie The Remains of the Day and hoped this book would be an extention of his beautiful writing. Not all books can be a “home run”!

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  4. It sounds as though we have opposite tastes in our Ishiguro – I loved ‘Never Let Me Go’ but wasn’t a fan of Nocturnes.I loved the writing style of ‘Never Let Me Go’ and found the lack of information about the characters added to the mystery. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did.

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  5. I’m the odd voice out here. This book affected me more profoundly than anything else I’ve ever read. It was the very fact of the restraint that made it so moving for me. That and the fact that he created a society enough like our own that I could believe that we could become a world where fellow humans would accept being used in that way and we might think it right.

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    • Maybe it’s my strong survival instinct then 🙂 I felt resistance in every bone of my body.

      I love how the discussion brings greater understanding, sometimes we don’t really know why we feel what we do, until someone shares the opposite view and then it all starts making sense. Thanks for sharing that Alex, it’s a brilliant insight.

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  6. I couldn’t put it down and parts of it will always haunt me. The technical and sparse style of writing made the story more real for me, highlighting Kathy’s quest and confusion. Reminded me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s stories in “The Illustrated Man”. I’ll definitely pick up a copy of “Nocturnes”, thanks for the recommendation! Looking forward to more reviews.

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  7. I loved Never Let me Go,Remains of the Day and when we were Orphans, I read but remember nothing of A Pale View of Hills, and once owned was daunted by and so never read The Unconsoled. But I hadn’t even realised he had written short stories, I rather fancy giving those a try.

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    • I think you might enjoy the short stories, I thought they were great and I remember just before they came out, that there was a short film created by George Wu shared on the Guardian, I think I saw this little film before reading the stories, and also read a wonderful interview with him about these themed stories.

      Here is a link to George Wu’s film, inspired by Ishiguro’s Nocturnes. Haunting inspiration. 🙂

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  8. What an excellent discussion here, Claire, and that is one of the many reasons I follow your blog. Your reviews are always honest, stimulating and provocative. As conversation about any good book should be. I have only read The Remains of The Day, which I loved. One day I may get to the rest.

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  9. I recently finished this book as well. I wanted to watch the movie and, like ChowPow, had to read the book first. I’m glad I did. I did find the characters a little ineffectual and frustrating. It did take longer to read than other books but overall it was worth the effort.

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  10. Oh no! This was one of the best books I read last year. It was so hauntingly beautiful in its sparseness that it stuck with me the entire year. Which is funny as a few books I read recently that were similarly sparse I did not enjoy.

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    • I know, I know, I think maybe I just left it too late to read it – it just didn’t do it for me and it’s not pleasant to admit, knowing that for so many it was such a profound book. I am enjoying all the sharing of that though, the discussion has added so much more to the experience, at least now I get why people loved it. Thanks for sharing your love of it too!

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      • Haahaa – I also definitely think it could be about when you read it. I know I was in a specific place in my mind at the time and the book hit me hard. I have no idea what it would be like to read it for the first time now.

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  11. I think ‘restraint’ is the perfect word to describe Ishiguro’s style.I liked Never Let Me Go well enough, but it didn’t work as well for me as The Remains of the Day, and is one of the few examples of a film, though different than the book, being better (as far as I’m concerned anyway.)

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  12. Claire,

    I had a hard time getting into the story at first, but after watching the film, I went back and appreciated the book much more. The film is an excellent adaptation. And the way Ishiguro gave the screenwriter the freedom to create is admirable. If you’re interested, here’s my post on Never Let Me Go: book into film.

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  13. It’s refreshing that you too – or indeed several of the people who left comments – didn’t enjoy the book. Some years ago, while I still lived in the UK and was in a book group there, I was alone in not praising the book immoderately. I agree it provoked thought, but my memory is of a book with unsympathetic characters described with little real depth. I’ve not seen the film, and I’m not sure I want to.

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  14. Pingback: How To Write a Book Review and Why Anyone Can Do It - 2 - Write Tribe

  15. Claire, your third paragraph perfectly sums up my struggles reading this book at the moment. I simply can’t get connected to Kathy, which is making this a real challenging read. Normally I’d dump a book at this stage, well actually earlier around p. 50, as I’m now on p. 70. The only thing keeping me going is that the novel is technically flawless and the writing is very well-executed. But I don’t even know how long those two aspects will make me hold on… I’m guessing though from your review that this isn’t the best place to start with Ishiguro!

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