Readerz.Net / Kazuo Ishiguro / Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go (novel)
Never Let Me Go is a 2005 dystopian science fiction novel by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (an award Ishiguro had previously won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day), for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. Time magazine named it the best novel of 2005 and included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. It also received an ALA Alex Award in 2006. A film adaptation directed by Mark Romanek was released in 2010; a Japanese television drama aired in 2016.
The story begins with Kathy H., who describes herself as a carer, talking about looking after organ donors. She has been a carer for almost twelve years at the time of narration, and she often reminisces about her time spent at Hailsham, a boarding school in England, where the teachers are known as guardians. The children are watched closely and they are often told about the importance of producing art and of being healthy (smoking is considered a taboo, almost on the level of a crime, and working in the vegetable garden is compulsory). The students' art is then displayed in an exhibition, and the best art is chosen by a woman known to the students as Madame, who keeps their work in a gallery. Kathy develops a close friendship with two other students, Ruth and Tommy. Kathy develops a fondness for Tommy, looking after him when he is bullied and having private talks with him. However, Tommy and Ruth form a relationship instead.
In an isolated incident, Miss Lucy, one of the guardians, tells the students that they are clones who were created to donate organs to others, and after their donations they will die young. Miss Lucy is removed from the school as a result of her disclosure, but the students passively accept their fate.
Ruth, Tommy and Kathy move to the Cottages when they are 16 years old. This is the first time they are allowed in the outside world, yet they keep to themselves most of the time. Ruth and Tommy are still together and Kathy has some sexual relationships with other men. Two older housemates, who had not been at Hailsham, tell Ruth that they have seen a "possible" for Ruth, an older woman who resembles Ruth and thus could be the woman from whom she was cloned. As a result, the five of them go on a trip to see her, but the two older students first want to discuss a rumour they have heard: that a couple can have their donations deferred if they can prove that they are truly in love. They believe that this privilege is for Hailsham students only and so wrongly expect that the others will know how to apply for it. They then find the possible, but the resemblance to Ruth is only superficial, causing Ruth to wonder angrily whether they were all cloned from "human trash".
During the trip, Kathy and Tommy separate from the others and look for a copy of a music tape that Kathy had lost when at Hailsham. Tommy's recollection of the tape and desire to find it for her make clear the depth of his feelings for Kathy. They find the tape, and then Tommy shares with Kathy a theory that the reason Madame collected their art was to determine which couples were truly in love, citing a teacher who had said that their art revealed their souls. After the trip, Kathy and Tommy do not tell Ruth of the found tape, nor of Tommy's theory about the deferral.
When Ruth finds out about the tape and Tommy's theory, she takes an opportunity to drive a wedge between Tommy and Kathy. Shortly afterwards she tells Kathy that, even if Ruth and Tommy were to split up, Tommy would never enter into a relationship with Kathy because of her sexual history. A few weeks later, Kathy applies to become a carer, meaning that she will not see Ruth or Tommy for about ten years.
After that, Ruth's first donation goes badly and her health deteriorates. Kathy becomes Ruth's carer, and both are aware that Ruth's next donation will probably be her last. Ruth suggests that she and Kathy take a trip and bring Tommy with them. During the trip, Ruth expresses regret for keeping Kathy and Tommy apart. Attempting to make amends, Ruth hands them Madame's address, urging them to seek a deferral. Shortly afterwards, Ruth makes her second donation and completes, an implied euphemism for dying.
Kathy becomes Tommy's carer and they form a relationship. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, they go to Madame's house to see if they can defer Tommy's fourth donation, bringing Tommy's artwork with him to support their claim that they are truly in love. They find Madame at her house, and also meet Miss Emily, their former headmistress, who lives with her. The two women reveal that guardians tried to give the clones a humane education, in contrast to other institutions. The gallery was a place meant to convey to the outside world that the clones are in fact normal human beings with a soul and deserve better treatment. It is also revealed however that this experiment has failed and that this is the reason Hailsham was closed. When Kathy and Tommy ask about the deferral they find out that such deferrals never existed.
Tommy knows that his next donation will end his life, and confronts Kathy about her work as a carer. Kathy resigns as Tommy's carer and does not see him again. The novel ends after Tommy's "completion", where Kathy, seeking a quiet life, drives up to Norfolk and briefly fantasizes about everything she remembers.
The novel's title comes from a song on a cassette tape called Songs After Dark, by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater. Kathy bought the tape during a swap meet-type event at Hailsham, which she often used to sing to and dance to the chorus: "Baby, never let me go." On one occasion, while dancing and singing, she notices Madame watching her and crying. Madame explains the encounter when they meet at the end of the book. While Kathy reveals to the reader that she was simply thinking about holding a child, Madame connects the dancing and the song to what they are doing to the children. She is overwhelmed by guilt and sadness and thus starts to cry when she sees Kathy.
In another section of the book, Kathy refers to the three main characters "letting each other go" after leaving the cottages.
Critics disagree over the genre of the novel. Writing for The New Yorker, Louis Menand describes the novel as 'quasi-science-fiction', saying, 'even after the secrets have been revealed, there are still a lot of holes in the story [...] it's because, apparently, genetic science isn’t what the book is about.' The New York Times book reviewer Sarah Kerr wondered why Ishiguro would write in, what she dubs, the 'pop genre—sci-fi thriller', claiming the novel to 'quietly upend [the genre's] banal conventions.' Horror author Ramsey Campbell labelled it as one of the best horror novels since 2000, a 'classic instance of a story that's horrifying, precisely because the narrator doesn’t think it is.'
Joseph O'Neill from The Atlantic suggested that the novel successfully fits into the coming of age genre. O'Neill wrote that 'Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful, and their hesitant progression into knowledge of their plight is an extreme and heartbreaking version of the exodus of all children from the innocence in which the benevolent but fraudulent adult world conspires to place them.' Theo Tait, in a review for The Telegraph, has a more general perspective of story: 'Gradually, it dawns on the reader that Never Let Me Go is a parable about mortality. The horribly indoctrinated voices of the Hailsham students who tell each other pathetic little stories to ward off the grisly truth about the future – they belong to us; we've been told that we're all going to die, but we've not really understood.'
Mark Romanek directed a British film adaptation titled Never Let Me Go in 2010. In Japan, the Horipro agency produced a stage adaptation in 2014 called Watashi wo Hanasanaide (私を離さないで), and in 2016 under the same title TBS Television aired a television drama adaptation set in Japan starring Haruka Ayase and Haruma Miura.