There is dystopia and then there is ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book categorized as dystopian science fiction was published in 2005 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. That’s quite a burden to hold, plus a star-studded movie based on the book. I had read ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Ishiguro last year, a book out of turn from my set TBR, and I was happy (if not elated) with the premise of Klara and the whole AI existence in a somewhat dystopian setting. Right then, an overwhelming recommendation for ‘Never Let Me Go’ came from the reading community.
Well, I had the book, and I began. First, let me begin with the blurb which says the book is about love, friends, and the fragility of life. Interesting! As readers, we love these three subjects any day of the week.
We have Kathy, the thirty-one-year-old working as a carer for the last 11 years narrating the story. So, you picture a place with the sick and the diseased recovering from unsurmountable pain after some sort of organ donation.
The story begins as Kathy reminisces her time at Hailsham, the residential school where she grew up with her friends, Tommy and Ruth. Mystery shrouds this place, cut off from the outside world. Students here focus on art and other disciplines and never question about their families, past, or future. You sense something sinister in the making, however, it takes bucket loads of patience within the structure of this book to stay absorbed.
At the age of 16, the protagonists shift to cottages, and you realize a certain coming-of-age narrative to follow. There is an intermingling of Hailsham students with others, yet we focus on these three characters through and through.
Ishiguro unravels Hailsham as an experiment through these three characters. There is, of course, the time-tested formulae of a love triangle that works at a slow pace.
More often you study characters. Madame at Hailsham who represents the system, ensuring the continuum of a regime with strict discipline. Miss Lucy who wants to break free and let children know the reality of their existence. And the main three characters, their integrity, traits, and peculiarities.
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth exhibit the courage and pathos of children who are brought up within confines and you feel the claustrophobia of their existence. I wanted to hold this premise close to my heart but somehow the narrative kept dragging. It was after the halfway mark that I was more absorbed in the book and the pace worked.
“Look at this art! How dare you claim these children are anything less than fully human?”
I liked ‘Never Let Me Go’ in a philosophical way, as in where it led me after the read. I remembered the day our television channels blurted out the news on Dolly, the cloned sheep. Debates were set on whether man should play God? Now you take a step ahead and see what happens when we reach the human phase of that experiment. You will see specks of this book in ‘Klara and the Sun’ in the fruition of a co-existent Human-AI world. Overall, perhaps the hype around ‘Never Let Me Go‘ dampened my experience of this book, or maybe the slow-paced character-driven narrative is an acquired taste!