It is clear a book is wonderful when it can lead you from rejoicing at the smallest, quietest achievements on one page to shedding tears of sorrow and despair on another. The genre defying ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, published in 2005, is one of these rare works. Nominated for the Booker Prize and recently made into a film starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, it is a book that forces one to pause for a moment and feel that sting of life’s brevity.
‘Never Let Me Go’ follows the fate of a group of three friends at the seemingly idyllic boarding school, Hailsham. Here the curriculum focuses predominantly on the children’s creative sides, and they are encouraged to create art and poetry. Despite appearances, Hailsham exists for a more sinister purpose – although to reveal this now would destroy the eerie sense of a building up of horror that Ishiguro so meticulously creates. Difficult and pressing questions of identity and ethics emerge from this book, as the characters face a life that is defined by their time at Hailsham. We never even learn the surname of narrator, Kathy H., but it seems plausible that even this initial is a mark of the overbearing presence of the school.
Kathy and her friends never try to rebel from the fate that they know awaits them, moving towards it each day with a passive subservience that we only rarely see them try to resist. A particularly poignant moment occurs when a teacher known only as ‘Madame’ witnesses Kathy in her room, cradling a pillow and dancing to the song after which the book is named, and she begins to sob uncontrollably. She is aware of the life that awaits Kathy and is powerless to change it.
Ishiguro’s understated prose is something that makes the powerful emotions that run through this story all the more unsettling. He has created a book that examines our place in the world in a way that is at times uplifting, but constantly powerful. I would urge anybody to read this book and embrace that moment in which you sit back, stop and think about the very nature of being a human.