Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy H was lucky enough to grow up at Hailsham. After fourteen years as a carer to various donors around the country, she is spending more and more time reminiscing. She thinks of her childhood, the Hailsham estate, guardians and friends. She tries to understand what her life and the lives of her friends have all meant.

She has two particularly special friends, Tommy and Ruth. Ruth is brazen and popular. Tommy is brooding, good at sport, prone to angry outbursts.

Kathy has always had an understanding with Tommy. From an early age they have picked quietly over their suspicions about Hailsham and what they were meant to be doing there. Ruth is much more interested in learning how to impress, how to climb social ladders.

The truth behind their lives at Hailsham takes a whole novel to unpick, though it comes as no surprise. In some ways, the novel explores the human ability to ignore anything difficult or painful in our interpretation of the world around us and our place within it.

Hailsham is much like a boarding school for orphans. I was at boarding school from a fairly young age and the way the students interact, label each other, cling to small friendship groups, search for places of privacy, all felt very real. The intensity of their friendships, how this intensity bled into early adulthood and beyond, also felt appropriate.

Whether the book ever went far enough for me, though, I’m not sure. It reminded me of a novel I read years ago called Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad. For me, Norman Spinrad pushed his ideas to a more incendiary level. In his novel, science uses children to keep the rich and famous alive, healthy and youthful. However, I often feel this about consciously literary science fiction such as Never Let Me Go: it does itself a disservice by not reading more widely.

The way Kathy H dissects the ebb and flow of friendship is brilliantly depicted but whether she reveals more about how the human race might view clones grown solely for organ harvest, is another thing.

Next week I’m reading The Girls by Lori Lansens.

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