Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
2010 Faber and Faber (UK paperback)
First published 2005
This delicate story has recently been made into a movie (which I haven’t seen), resulting in the publication of a new, heavily marketed paperback which caught my eye on a recent trip to London. Ishiguro had long been on my radar as I loved The Remains of the Day (both the novel and the movie).
The Sunday Times endorsement described Never Let Me Go as ‘Masterly … A novel with piercing questions about humanity and humaneness.’ I cannot argue with the assessment, but this novel didn’t do the thing I most want from a novel: it didn’t fully absorb me.
I am sure its assured understatement and slow pace will fulfill many readers – I have enjoyed the combination in other novels – but the ‘dreadful secret’ was delivered in such a slow and fractured way that by the time the picture was complete in my mind, I had already become used to its substance. The secret was indeed weighty – sad, tragically explicable – but not dreadful and, crucially, not believable.
The three main characters (Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy) were believable, touchingly so, and I did care for them. But I just couldn’t engage with their world. Was that because it was openly not this world – the setting more science fiction than merely fiction? I don’t think so: I have ‘bought into’ much more extraordinary settings as a reader. No, I think pace was to blame. Bluntly put, not enough happened to maintain my engagement. A brilliant tableau, but a flawed novel.