Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

British boarding schools have a bad reputation in literature. Maybe Hogwarts is okay, but Jane Eyre and the Orphans of Chaos had some very terrible experiences. Never Let Me Go is another story that involves children growing up at an isolated English boarding school called Halisham. The story is told by Kathy H., a Halisham student who has no memory of life before the school (like all the other students). She tells the story of growing up there and quite a bit of her life afterwards.

Life at Halisham is both nurturing and mysterious. The children growing into adulthood go through the typical social dramas of life--cliques form and transform, shy or awkward students get bullied, interest in the opposite sex blooms. Most of the teachers take good care of them but some are frigid to or frightened of the students. The students' future is not clear. In fact, it seems ominous. One teacher, Miss Lucy, almost blurts out the secret but is removed. Meanwhile, the students are encouraged to make art and the head mistress collects the best to take away somewhere. The student have all sorts of theories about why she is collecting their works.

After they complete their studies, Kathy and some of her class mates move to the Cottages, an interim spot from which some of them will become carers and others donors. Social interactions are still their primary interest but they also wonder even more about their future and their past. Students from other similar schools are at the Cottages and they have lots of questions about how well the Halisham pupils were treated. Life after the cottages for Kathy is one wandering around Great Britain caring for various donors. She tells us about her closest friends, Ruth and Tommy, as they go through the donation process.

The big revelation of the mystery at the end of the book is not so surprising. Kathy and her friends make several wrong guesses about their lives which provides the characters with some pathos and motivation.

The interesting part of the story is seeing them work through their ideas and emotions while their lives move along. Ultimately, they are dealing with a fate chosen for them, trying to understand it and make the most of it (but strangely enough, not change it). Kathy is a sympathetic character even if she isn't the brightest bulb in the pack. Ultimately, the unease of Halisham carries through the whole story. The students, even in their special circumstances, deal with issues in their lives similar to what all of us deal with--what is our place in the world, how we should treat others. The book is interesting but not great.

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