Never Let Me Go

Aug 24 2009

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It’s difficult to review Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go without resorting to reviewers’ favorite candy phrases: heart-wrenching, melancholy, tragic, and the one that I always shudder at, tour de force.

This is partly because of its deceit. For its first few chapters, it appears to be nothing more than a woman reminiscing about her childhood at an English boarding school. Moreover, the protagonist is nothing special, and spends much of her time second-guessing her (and others’) actions.

Then you begin to notice that something’s a little…off. Certain life details are conspicuously absent. Some normal things are never mentioned, while others are referenced in strange ways, and there are these strange euphemisms about donations and completing.

These are the two great strengths of Ishiguro’s novel:

  1. The writing is delicately structured to intrigue and reveal, despite a narrator who is rather dull herself. One learns things about characters that the characters don’t realize themselves.
  2. There’s a twist to this woman’s life and entire world that’s revealed slowly and naturally (another of Ishiguro’s impressive feats), and which adds several complex layers of meaning to her memories and worries. This drives the story forward even further.

Which makes Never Let Me Go even more difficult to review. Ishiguro’s subtle touch masks wonderful layers of intriguing complexity, and the twist really shouldn’t be revealed in a review like this. So what can I say?

After I finished the final page, I felt like my head had blossomed open like a flower, and I felt dazed for a few hours.

I can hardly think of higher praise.

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