This book has been sitting on my shelf for years. It’s the dystopian element of the novel that intrigued me as well as worried me; I need to be in a certain mindset for them. Finally, I read it this month and I was taken by surprise. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a science fiction/dystopian novel which focuses on three friends Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.
The story of Never Let Me Go is divided into three parts as it focuses on different periods of the characters’ lives. Kathy is the narrator of the story and everything that unfolds is from her perspective. The first part begins when Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are young kids’ not even teenagers yet at a boarding school called Hailsham. Apart from the first chapter where it seems something might be off about the school, it is pretty idyllic. There are a lot of secretive things happening at Hailsham which all the kids notice but they don’t know why it is the way it is.
In the second part of the story, the three friends have left the school at 16 and now are living at Cottages where they start to really understand about their lives. It is then revealed that all the kids at Hailsham are actually clones, genetically engineered to be organ donors. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth spend time reminiscing about Hailsham while trying to accept their reality. Tommy and Ruth are in a romantic relationship now. Kathy notices the changes in Ruth’s behavior towards her and Tommy but she doesn’t say anything to her directly. Ruth has befriended an older couple there who tell her that if the clones are truly in love and can prove it, they can defer. By the end of this part, Ruth has successfully driven a wedge between Tommy and Kathy. It is after this Kathy signs up to be a carer.
In the third part, Kathy is now working as a carer, Ruth and Tommy have made their first donations. Kathy meets an old classmate from Hailsham who tells her about Ruth and her failing health after the donation. Kathy decides to become her carer. It is Ruth’s idea to go to the lake and she also insists and Tommy joining them. Ruth regrets keeping Tommy and Kathy apart and urges them to defer together. After Ruth’s death, Kathy and Tommy are romantically involved and she is also Tommy’s carer.
The main part of the story that I really liked were the characters. Kathy is empathetic which makes her a good carer; she is also more accepting of her fate. Even at a young age, she notices slight changes in the behavior of the guardians. Ruth can be superficial and difficult at times. She has fantasies and dreams which don’t match her reality and understandably, she lashes out. In the end, though she accepts she kept Tommy and Kathy away from each other and wants them to try and defer. Tommy is sensitive and introspective. As a kid, he is short-tempered but as he becomes older he is calm and thoughtful.
The book is disturbing in a way because you know they are clones and they have been brought up for a purpose but they are also human. Their emotions and reactions are real. They behave like regular kids and teenagers but deep down they know that they are not ‘normal’. They are human in all the ways that it counts but their life has a purpose and that has to be fulfilled. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth want to see if they can change their fate; Ruth dies without knowing the truth about their existence which Kathy and Tommy learn towards the end.
The novel is heartbreaking and disturbing. The way it is written and narrated just takes the story to another level. The themes of expectation versus reality, friendships and relationships, life and death, and humanity are beautifully explored in this novel. This novel put me in a bit of a daze; I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished. It is a must-read.
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