I’d been meaning to read this novel for some years, having thoroughly enjoyed The Remains of the Day. I was also intrigued by the premise, which utilises a major science fiction trope in a literary manner. This has developed into a trend in recent years, with several literary novelists dipping into SF for their ideas: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, and others. It’s also interesting to observe that Ishiguro was plainly happy to have the book considered as SF, unlike more, shall we say, precious writers like Margaret Atwood (whose body of work includes many SF books); he was present at the awards ceremony when Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for an Arthur C. Clarke Award (it lost out to a novel by Geoff Ryman).
It’s probably an open secret by now what the book is about, but I’ll avoid reference to the basic premise just in case anyone out there is unfamiliar with it. The story concerns the childhood of Kathy H and her growth into a blighted adulthood in an alternate 1990s England (Ishiguro wisely chooses an alternate 1990s in which to set his story as scientific advances in the last ten to fifteen years would rule out his setting the story in the actual 1990s or the present day). Kathy H attends Hailsham School, an establishment with all the trappings of a high brow public school, where she is educated in the arts and the finer things in life. As she learns more of her destiny and that of friends, the impossibility of a life she can call her own becomes more apparent and the true horror of the wider world into which she is propelled dawns with devastating clarity.
This is a story of friendship, love, the loss of innocence and the value and fragility of memory. Beautifully written and highly recommended.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, pb, 304pp, €9.59)
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