Named as one of Time Magazine’s All Time 100, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go received critical attention for its strange, romantic atmosphere and delicate, artfully constructed prose. Over the course of his career, Ishiguro has made broad strokes in the field of writing, with his work being noticed in songs, short stories, screenplays, and novels. Ishiguro has developed a discreet style to his writing that manages to be both concise and incredibly descriptive; in many ways, Kazuo uses unique word choices that make his work distinct, but has developed a deliberate readability that keeps his work fully engaging. Time describes Never Let Me Go as being “told with a dry-eyed, white-knuckled restraint.”
The plot of Never Let Me Go revolves around an unusual boarding school, Hailsham, where students live from birth until 16 without parents. Set in an alternate version of England, the novel is told from the first-person perspective of a student named Kathy, and the first part of the book is largely a picturesque retelling of her adolescent years. Kathy builds relationships with teachers and fellow students, and experiences a relatively normal childhood in the school. There’s something decidedly romantic about the years that Kathy spends at the school; she develops close friendships and falls in love for the first time during this period.
However, the story becomes notably darker when the students turn 16, and the reader begins to understand why the experience at Hailsham was so unique. The students at the boarding school are clones, and have been raised to adulthood for the sole purpose of having their organs harvested for people that need donations. The novel then follows Kathy through her adult life as she comes to terms with the reality of her situation, and struggles to grasp where her humanity begins and ends. The novel’s theme is one of the bounds of the human experience; these are people who are afforded the opportunity to love and learn, but are ultimately slated for death as a matter of their being. Time Magazine stated that “the human drama of Never Let Me Go, its themes of atrocity and acceptance, are timeless and, sadly, permanent.”
The prose of the piece is ultimately a very clever literary device; as Kathy is forced to explain her experiences coping with her unfair death, she does so with a careful dignity that Ishiguro reflects through his writing. Kathy never falls into the pattern of self-pity that the reader would expect, but she never manages to thrust her head too far into the clouds either. It’s all decisively real in the scope of emotion, and Ishiguro manages to contribute something compelling to the raised-chin narration of the story.
Ultimately, Never Let Me Go stands out as a novel because it has made something completely unexpected; it’s a sci-fi dystopian novel that manages to bring something tangible to the scope of the human condition. In many ways, the simple construction of the narrative sounds bizarre, but reads flawlessly through Ishiguro’s intricately constructed voice and diction. The nature of the novel is unique, and leaves the reader with a sense of poetry in acceptance.