Review of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

331679Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. ★★1/2

Never Let Me Go is essentially a fictional memoir with dystopian undertones. It’s a coming of age story, and possibly a metaphor for life. Unfortunately, I hardly ever cared about anyone or anything in the entire book.

Right off the bat, you know there’s something strange going on in Never Let Me Go. The narrator, Kathy, talks about being a “carer” and mentions “donations.” However, the majority of the book is her reflections on her childhood Hailsham, a boarding school in the English countryside, with her friends Tommy and Ruth.

Never Let Me Go is conversational in tone. It feels like listening to a distant and drifting monologue, maybe of one of your elderly relatives who’s obsessed with telling you stories about their childhood. I may be making this sound worse than it actually is. Despite the emotional distance, I didn’t have much of a problem with the way the book was narrated.

Actually, the emotional distance was an all over problem with the characters. The main characters never consider trying to change their own fate or even seem to find it unfair. Instead they placidly except their future with a sort of emotional numbness. In a way, it’s interesting and quite probably a commentary on how culture can convince you to accept all sorts of things. On the other hand, it’s baffling that there are no mentions of anyone ever trying to rebel.

A related problem is the weakness of the science fiction concept. It’s very basic, and really only exists to provide a framework for Kathy’s life. If you think about it for more than five seconds, there are all sorts of holes (like would people really accept this in the first place?). One of the only things I found interesting in the entire book was the question of the Gallery. At the school, the children were encouraged to be creative and their best artwork was collected into the mysterious Gallery. I had a guess as to what was going on, but I was completely wrong. The real explanation was disappointingly simple.

My main problem was that this was a character based book where I don’t care at all about the characters. There’s nothing in the book that makes me like or root for Kathy, Ruth, or Tommy. When the threat of death hangs over them, I think “whatever.” Take dull characters, add a bland plot and zero action or humor, and you’ve got a boring book.

Never Let Me Go is literary and probably a metaphor for life. I found it completely pointless, which might actually have been the point of the metaphor. Life is pointless! We all die in the end!

Again, whatever. I still don’t care about this book and would not recommend it. Honestly, I’m sort of surprised I finished it in the first place.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. lkeke35 says:

    I make a point of staying away from Literary Genre mashups, as a general rule. Literary styles of writing have a way of making an otherwise exciting genre, incredibly boring. Basically take some genre trope you may be wretchedly tired of and add some, more or less, thoughtful reflections from all the characters and the end result is sleepiness.

    1. That’s a good point. There’s an essay by Jo Walton about how literary authors who write genre without having read genre often mess up. It was a really good essay. Unfortunately, I read it in a bookstore and can’t find an online version.

      1. lkeke35 says:

        I may have found it on

        Titled: That’s just scenery, What do we mean by “mainstream”?

      2. Yes! This is it! Thanks so much, I can bookmark it now!

  2. imyril says:

    I haven’t read this yet (I received it as a SantaThing), but have seen the film, which I enjoyed. I’ll be curious to see how I get on. I very much enjoyed the Swedish equivalent (The Unit), so the bar is quite high when I finally tackle the Ishiguro…

    1. I hope you like it more than I did!

  3. I think I liked this book a little more than you did, but it still wasn’t my favorite by any means. I haven’t gone back to reread it. What I like about Ishiguro is the way you start to gradually get a sense that something is Wrong, and that sense just builds and builds as the book goes on. But yep, the characters are not nearly fleshed out enough, and it bugged me a lot.

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