English boarding school --
not what it appears. Students
try to find purpose.
This compelling novel will haunt you.
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of Remains of the Day), Never Let Me Go is a thought-provoking powerhouse: strong, vivid characters, suspense from Page 1, fascinating setting, lyrical language, powerful plot. Everything. And it's wildly original.
Since about the third chapter, though, I've been worrying about just how I was going to tell you how wonderful it is without spoilers. Never Let Me Go could so easily be spoiled. So if I sound a little vague, please understand it's for a very good reason. And ... whatever you do ... don't read Amazon reviews before finishing this book. Trust me.
It's about a group of children at an English boarding school. The first third of the novel tells of their years at school, and these scenes are familiar ... or are they?
We've all read books about boarding schools in England. We know what to expect, and it's all there: tiffs between classmates, grappling for social power, coupling up.
But there's something unusual here. This school is different, somehow, and for the longest time, I couldn't identify what it was. Then I finally realized, these students never ...
Ah, but here I am, bumping my head against a spoiler. Sorry. You'll have to read it for yourself.
The rest of the novel tells of their adult years. As schoolchildren do, they grow up, move away and lose contact, but three of them reconnect later in life. One of the three tells the story as an adult, after all the events have taken place and enough years have passed for perspective.
But she sure doesn't tell you too much or too soon, so you'll hang on every page wondering, "What the heck?"
And when you find out exactly what happened and why, you'll still be asking, "What the heck?" but it will have turned into a forlorn cry about human nature, from the most elemental part of your soul.
I hadn't heard about Never Let Me Go until my husband brought it home for me, but I've heard much about it since. It's one of the Top 10 bestsellers in paperback fiction at my independent bookstore, and it was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. Wow.
Well-deserved. There's so little to criticize here, and so much to praise.
I have only three objections, all very minor.
First, I had one unanswered question about character motivation. I wanted to know why it never occurred to these people to just ... walk away. I could accept that they didn't, but I want to know the reason (though I suspect the author left a hint in the final sentence). If this is too cryptic, come back and reread the review after you've finished the book.
Second, the first page says only, "England, late 1990s." The next page says only, "Part One." I wasn't sure, since the date was before the beginning of "Part One," whether "Late 1990s" was when the children were at the school or when the protagonist is telling the story, and frankly, I'm still not sure. If you're going to ground a story in a real place and time like that, I want it to be clear.
Finally, I really, really don't like the title. It fits OK, but it isn't memorable. I know me, and books. And about six months from now, I'm going to be saying, "Oh, my gosh, you have to read this one book! It's ... it's ... oh, heck, what was the name of it again? It's the one about ... oh. Right. I can't tell you that. But it's fascinating! And it's written by ... oh, geez. It's an unusual name, and he wrote one of my favorite ... What is that stupid title?"
The problem is, the title doesn't bring up an image in my mind. The connection with the story itself is only secondary and metaphorical -- that is, it doesn't describe specific action in the book, and it's not even an image at all.
Even worse, what it does bring up is that sappy love song, "Candle on the Water," from Pete's Dragon (yes, I do have small children; how did you know?). Yikes! This book has far too much poise and elegance and cachet to have me singing that little song every time I see the cover.
I think I understand the problem with titling this book. Heck, I can't even talk about the primary conflict; how could the title announce it?
It's going to happen though. I'll remember this book for a long, long time. But all too soon, I'll forget the title.
Do me a favor, will ya? Make a note of it? Then when I say, "You know, that book, the really unforgettable one," you can say, "Never Let Me Go," by Kazuo Ishiguro.
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