Thursday, January 27, 2011

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Vintage, 2005
288 pages

This book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize back in 2005, and was made into a movie (which I haven't seen) last year. About a month ago, I found a gently used copy at my parents' house. Turns out, my nephew read it for a university class, and left it when he was finished. Anyway, I just sort of picked it up.

For me, Never Let Me Go was incredibly difficult to get into at first. I plodded through the first hundred or so pages. Several times, I thought about stopping and moving on to something . . . easier. But at some point around page 120, I realized I was hooked, and I'm glad I stuck it out because Never Let Me Go is quite . . . well, powerful.

The narrator is Kathy, a young woman looking back on her life, specifically her time at an English boarding school called Hailsham. We realize early on that something is a bit "off" about Hailsham: it's definitely not your typical boarding school. For one thing, the students don't have parents. They're encouraged to stay healthy and to spend time on creative endeavors, but unlike most schools there's no emphasis on preparing for a career or life after Hailsham.

Never Let Me Go is a story of friendship (a dystopian romance, really) between Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy. Ruth is uptight and at times quite snippy. Tommy struggles with anger issues and is at times bullied by other students, yet with Kathy he's sensitive and gentle. Kathy is curious yet subdued, a good observer. As the book progresses, we learn the truth behind who they are and what's expected of them.

It wasn't the plot or even the characters that kept me turning the pages. It was a combination of brilliant writing and the ethical issues that the author brought to my attention. Ethically speaking, the big question the author seems to be asking is: What is it that makes us human? I found myself thinking back on history (not just history, really, but the present as well) and asking myself: Why is it that we humans are constantly looking for ways (and taking advantage of opportunities) to exploit each other?

This book made my brain hurt. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to stretch ourselves in ways other than physical. If you want to stretch yourself . . . if you want to read some really good writing . . . if you're willing to tackle some big questions and think philosophically even long after the book has been closed . . . then Never Let Me Go might be a good choice for you.