Monday, October 16, 2017

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)

In light of the recent news that Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature, I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts.

First off, I want to congratulate Mr. Ishiguro on the honour. This post in no way intends to be an opinion on whether or not that accolade was deserved, and is simply my experience with his work so far.

Like a lot of people, my first experience with Ishiguro's work was when the movie of Never Let Me Go came out. Being a huge fan of dystopian literature for many years, especially those with a dark or twisted element, this seemed right up my alley. I think I might have missed a few minutes at the beginning of the movie, but otherwise I watched it the whole way through.  I'm a huge fan of Carey Mulligan and Sally Hawkins, and enjoy many things that Keira Knightley has done, so the whole thing seemed really promising.

Conceptually, I enjoyed it. Yet I felt a lack of an emotional connection to the characters, except for the mild "person on the outside" feeling that Kathy and I seemed to share. But I was not satisfied with this - perhaps something was missing from the adaptation (moments cut out, beautiful prose untranslatable to film, etc.) that just didn't give me the full experience. So I endeavored to read it.

Here's what I found:

  • I feel like everything - every twist and turn - felt given away earlier than when it actually came to pass, so much so that when it actually happened it had none of the impact that it was supposed to.
  • I didn't understand why any of the people would have been in a relationship with each other at the points when they were. Although it makes sense on the level of "they were who was there, and in this small environment you love who is available", but no one ever seemed to mesh with each other. Although a couple might have made sense at one point in the book, when they get together they are in a completely different place in their lives and no longer feel right together, nor does it seem logical that they would have feelings for each other anymore. None of it felt believable.
  • Everyone sort of feels as though they are plodding along at life. I get this to some degree, as they know their fate and are carefully monitored, but nothing seems to happen and no one seems to really have important thoughts beyond those they had as children, and then near the end as adults. There is this long in-between stage of nothingness. There is almost this random, desperate desire to change things instead of it being a constant longing that eventually becomes pressing due to time constraints.
  • The descriptions of life at Hailsham were overall good, and gave a pretty decent portrayal of what their childhoods were like. I do feel like that was handled well, and with the recollections of someone who saw things as a child and is able to reflect on them differently (to some degree) as an adult, but with still the occasional bias of a child's memories. You understand the teachers and what struggles many of them had to go through regarding these children, and how much to tell them. It is one of the few cues that there are people in this book that see the situation as morally wrong, but are trying to do the best they can in that situation.
  • I truly never felt like important elements of the plot were explained or thought about in enough detail. Everything was an "you'll understand when you're older" type of feeling, or a "it's too complicated to go into" situation. I feel like I would have thoroughly enjoyed and gotten a lot more out of this novel if it went more in depth about the situation these people were forced into. It just wasn't haunting enough for me.

My overall feelings towards this book are mixed. I loved the idea of the story, and where aspects of the plot went. I was disappointed, however, in the lack of development in many areas. I just felt consistently that it didn't go quite far enough for me to be properly connected and invested. It's the sort of novel I will likely try to reread at some point. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations for this book based on what I knew about it before picking it up, but it just didn't hit home for me.

What do you think of Never Let Me Go? Have you read the book, watched the movie, or both? How does it compare to Ishiguro's other works?


  1. I totally understand your criticisms. I liked this book overall, but the numb emotions of the characters was definitely a big downside. If only it had been explained better.

    1. Yes, absolutely! It's nice to find someone who agrees. I haven't read any of his other works, so I don't know if I just don't connect with his style, but I guess I'll see if I pick up another one at some point.