Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is an unsettling novel that grabs the reader with a relentless grip from its first page to its last. Told from the first-person point of view of a naïve and unreliable narrator, the novel unfolds in a series of flashbacks and flash forwards. The narrator, Kathy H, an adult in her early thirties when the novel opens, remembers her childhood and schooling at Hailsham, followed by her years in “the cottage,” and then as a caregiver to donors.
Initially, Hailsham sounds like an idyllic school in the English countryside, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. Kathy is surrounded by friends and guardians who oversee the children’s education, artistic endeavors, and sports activities. But slowly seeping into this atmosphere are hints of something ominous: references to the children as “special,” furtive glances, partial revelations, and bits of overheard conversations. Kathy narrates these activities and snatches of conversation but seems completely oblivious to their import at the time. This makes it even more haunting since the reader is able to piece the puzzle together long before everything becomes apparent to the narrator. The tension builds up slowly with layer upon layer of hints and clues shared with the reader through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend their significance.
Winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro has created an amazing tour de force. Through his use of first-person narrative, the reader experiences events through the eyes an innocent child who grows into adulthood. We feel sympathy for her and her friends as they try to make sense of an incomprehensible situation. We watch them as they clutch at straws and fabricate meanings to understand their circumstances. And we recoil in horror as we learn the purpose of their existence and the full extent of the cruel and inhumane experiment they have endured under the ostensible guise of scientific medical research.
This is not an easy read. Brilliant in its execution, the story is chilling, disturbing, and will continue to haunt long after the final sentence has been read.