Book Review — Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Rating — 4/5

This is unlike any other science fiction that I have read before.

Usually, in sci-fi dystopias, the world is incredibly dark and miserable. Books like ‘Handmaids Tale’ and ‘Nineteen-eighty-four’ paint an intricate and terrifying picture. The technology is flashy and scary, and society is visibly troubled and impacts all citizens. Never Let Me Go, isn’t like this, which both intrigued and frustrated me.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of three childhood friends, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who grew up in the mysterious and secluded boarding school of Hailsham. The narrative slowly reveals the strange parallel world that the characters live in. In this world, humans are cloned, trained to become carers of other cloned organ donors, and ultimately have their own organs harvested in early adulthood. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are all clones.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy’s childhood is incredibly idyllic. They live in a rural wonderland, in a school full of gentle and supportive teachers, who encourage the importance of creativity and art. Then, when they go into the real world, everything seems so incredibly ordinary. Ordinary cars, office jobs, shops, pop music, all very mundane. The only difference really is that cancer is as curable as a chest infection, thanks to these donors. It’s only really a dystopia for the clones, who have no say in their tragic destiny.

Because I’m so used to the world-building of dystopian fiction, I was left wanting to know more about the world of Never Let Me Go. I wanted to learn more about how this type of bio-medical science became the norm. I wanted to meet characters who were openly critical of it. I wanted to hear about protests, I wanted to hear snippets of news talking about human rights violations. I didn’t get any of that. All I got was an explanation about how society didn’t really want to know about how cancer became so curable, they didn’t want to face the humanity of their walking, talking, feeling bags of organs.

I’m sure that withholding so much information from the reader was intentional, and it made me think about how I engage with the characters of dystopian fiction. Instead of asking questions like ‘Does Tommy Love Kathy or Ruth?’ or ‘Why is Tommy so insecure?’ I’m thinking, ‘What organs does Tommy have left?’ and ‘are there any fugitive donors?’ The main plot of this story isn’t the fact that they’re sub-humans that are vital to society, like Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids, but it’s about their relationships with one another.

Because of my already pre-conceived notions of how dystopian fiction works, I had already de-humanized them as a reader and just wanted to know all the external bollocks. While I found it frustrating to read and not get the answers I want. It said a lot about how I engage with oppressed characters in dystopian fiction.

This is the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro that I have read, and though he pissed me off by not giving me all the gory, unethical details that I wanted, he’s got me hooked on his writing style.

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