Never Let Me Go
One of the most acclaimed novels of the 21st Century, from the Nobel Prize-winning author
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go…
Why read it?
12 authors picked Never Let Me Go as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
I have read many stories and books about clones and the treatment of these beings whose genetic makeup and minds are much like our own.
Kazuo Ishiguro explores more than just the ethics of using clones as though they are not humans through a philosophical lens that brings us to question what exactly makes us human and what our true values are if our sole purpose from the moment of birth is to sacrifice ourselves, cut our lives short, for the sake of others.
I met Ish many years ago, when we were both promoting our first novels on a Faber tour. I love his work and have read everything he’s written.
But Never Let Me Go is the one that haunts me, for its understated grief and the way it reminds us of what it is to be human, and to face death, in an all-too-plausible and heart-breaking future scenario.
Spoiler alert: this is not a novel about conventional organ donation.
Rather, it’s a rumination on humanity, morality, science, memory, and power. Following three friends as they come of age at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school, then have to face the truth of what they’re really being nurtured for.
It’s also a dystopian love story and scarily prescient science fiction, and if you don’t end the book with a lump in your throat so large that you almost can’t breathe you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.
This is a whole different take on human cloning. Never Let Me Go depicts a world in which people are cloned to create organ donors for the sick, necessarily limiting the lifespan of the clones. It is the story of the passions, relationships, and emotions of the clones and their attempts to delay their fate. As with any book by Kazuo Ishiguro, this is beautifully written, and an insightful study of human nature.
Although mostly set in a mysterious boarding school called Hailsham, this novel isn’t about the school, or even what happened there. It’s set in a grim alternative version of England and isn’t for the faint-hearted (no pun intended).
What a boarding school does to a child is seal them off from ‘real life’ and in this case, Hailsham represents a strange sort of safety; and the real world is devastatingly lethal for the narrator Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommie.
This is one of the books that made me want to become a writer of “speculative” novels. It’s a beautifully engrossing alternate history, set in what appears to be a remote English boarding school. There we meet young people who have been told they have a special destiny, a special place in the world—but not what that destiny is. As his story unfolds, Ishiguro asks us to think about how far human beings might be willing to go to save themselves, what it actually means to be human, and how something as beautiful as empathy and caring can be used,…
When it came to categorising my book, I remember Googling the genre for Never Let Me Go and having a bit of a light-bulb moment when it came up as ‘soft sci-fi.' I read this book several years ago and yet it has always stuck with me, particularly the coming-of-age storyline of the characters from children to adults set within an ultimately horrifying reality. There is something so poignantly spine-chilling about a reality where controversial scientific practices are not only sanctioned but have become the norm – it really makes you think about the definition and the deniability of humanity.
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are boarding school students of Hailsham, where they are educated and protected by adults known as “guardians.” The students of Hailsham are clones, bred so that their organs will one day be harvested and donated. Donations are made until the clone “completes” – a euphemism for their inevitable death. Despite knowing this, Kathy, the narrator of the novel, and the other characters accept their fates. They don’t protest or rise against the system that sees them as commodities; instead, they choose to distract themselves by creating and maintaining an insular mythos about their world. That Kathy…
I read Never Let Me Go at least a decade ago, and to this day, it’s the one book that has stuck with me the most over the years. It’s a beautiful dystopian take on an alternate reality Britain, so hauntingly realistic in its execution that you can’t help but be emotionally gripped by the plight of the characters. I love a book that triggers an emotional response in me, and needless to say, this one did just that. Have tissues handy!
The obvious metaphor for reading this book is peeling an onion, in that each of Ishiguro’s sentences unveils another hidden layer of the story. But reading his Twilight Zone-esque Never Let Me Go is more like unwrapping a mummy. The novel starts out with classmates reliving their days at an idyllic English boarding school and builds with masterful pacing to something quite different, with each new revelation adding to the disgust and horror at what lies beneath the seemingly innocuous surface. I read Never Let Me Go simultaneously in awe of Ishiguro’s prose and chilled by the content of…
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