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Never Let me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (book recommendation and review)


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For some reason, I was under the impression that I have already read Never Let Me Go. In fact, I only read a small part of this novel in a library once. Upon I realized that I actually haven't finishing reading this one, I decided to set it right and read it as soon as possible. As you can see from this photograph, I took Never Let Me Go to vacation to me. It was in this heaven of Earth that I read this novel. It seemed appropriate. For a novel as profoundly sad as this one, needs a bit of counter -balance. Island Hvar provided that counter-balance and it also did a great job of reminding me of my childhood. You know, childhood, the way we remember it, the way it shapes us, is one of the themes of this novel. However, I won't talk about that yet. Let's talk about what this novel made me feel. I wrote a review on goodreads (here) but here on my blog, I want to make this talk even more personal. I'm a fan of Kazuo, that means that I embraced this novel expecting to like it. My expectations were high, but this particular novel exceeded them greatly. It is such a unique piece of writing.

You may have heard that this novel is poignant with sorrow and that is certainly the case. What was reading this novel like? Well, I can say from my personal experience that reading this novel was very much a heart-breaking experience, but being the masterpiece that it is, I'm ready to forgive it for all the emotional pain it caused me. Forgive, but not forget. Perhaps that is what this novel is really about, forgiving but not forgetting. Holding onto that magical something that makes life worth living, that elusive yet attainable luxury of true connection between two souls. Yes, I’m using the S word. Soul. Call me crazy, but I really feel that this book captures not only the emotional and the intellectual aspect of its characters, but their very soul. Never Let Me Go is an immensely powerful and profound novel, one that examines the very essence of human soul. It is a great piece of writing, no doubt about that. I would even go so far as to say that it is one of the best contemporary novels that I have read. I’m utterly and completely in love with it.


If you asked me what the main literary merit of this novel is, I would have to say characterization. The three main characters are masterfully portrayed. There is only one narrator, but she does such a great job of telling the story, you get this impression that you’re seeing things from multiple angles, perspectives, intellectual and emotional states. It is through her examination of her past that we get a very intimate perspective of two other main characters. Not that these three characters are the only important characters in the novel. The others have a very important part to play as well. Their motivation and their reasons for acting the way they do are just as interesting and thought-provoking as those of the main three characters.

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.” 

This novel opens with a female protagonist. Kathy is carer, one that has spent years taking care of the dying. Quite early in the novel, she seems to reveal a great deal about herself yet that is only the tip of the ice-berg. For it might be that her soul is made of three parts. Moreover, to find the two parts of her soul that seem to be missing, she will have to look under water, she will have to search within herself and metaphorically speaking dive into ocean to find those other parts. Perhaps what she is really trying to hold on are not just memories, but the two most important relationships in her life. Ruth and Tommy are her world, they are the persons she had been the closest to and they are the ones she's trying to hold on. 

“Because maybe, in a way, we didn't leave it behind nearly as much as we might once have thought. Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and no matter how much we despised ourselves for it--unable quite to let each other go.” 


This novel is exceptionally well written. As a main character, she is absolutely convincing. The reasons why she tells her story in such a way seems valid. The narrative felt very logical to me, but at the same time, it was written in such a way it explored the deepest emotions and fears. As the novel progresses, this extremely candid account of growing up gets woven with what our protagonist has to say about her life now. While the story flows, her internal motivation for telling the story continues making perfect sense and her constant questioning keeps us the readers alert. 
One of the things that I found surprising is the lack of ambiguity I came to connect with Kazue Ishiguro. Nevertheless, I loved this novel as much as his more ambiguous and mysterious works, perhaps even more. 

There is something insanely candid about it, something in the way the story is told that feels very intimate. I know that could be said for his other works as well. It was this skill of revealing his character’s deepest desires and motivations that attracted me to his writing in the first place. As a writer, he possesses a unique ability to create characters that seem real, but are so complex that there can be no final definition of them, so complex that perhaps the only right way to see them is to see them from multiple views. 

“It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we'd understood that back then-who knows?-maybe we'd have kept a tighter hold of one another.” 


I always admired his ambiguity because he used it so well, but when it came to these three characters, it seemed like he did not need it. Here it is like he decided to focus on one thing and that is the connection between characters. He is certainly an outstanding writer and he proves it every step of the way. I did feel a bit of ambiguity on the part of others. Yes, this novel seems to be divided between two kinds of people. Our protagonists are in a way “others”, they are not considered “normal” and they are members of a very small group. It is interesting to observe their relationship with themselves, as well as with “normal” people. I felt that the actions of “regular” people were a lot more open to interpretation than those of this small group, primarily those of our three protagonists.

It is my opinion that a great dystopian novel should be a bit scary. I mean that in a sense it makes us question things, it makes us realize our mistakes and the mistakes we make as a society as well as the possible conveniences of bad decisions. A good dystopian novel is not necessary a critique of the society that we live in, but it should question the relationship between and individual and society, it should capture that daily struggle and frustration of a human soul living in a more or less hostile world in one way or another.

I must say I’m really happy that mr. Kazuo has done so well in dystopian genre. His inborn sensibility and his writing skill made him a great candidate for exploring this genre, but as they say one can never be sure how something will work out. One of the thing I love most about the dystopian genre is its exploration of that fascinating theme of what makes us human and what we are willing to do to keep our humanity. Furthermore, I always believed that the best dystopian literatures make us question not just the society we live in but ourselves as individuals and our relationship to that society. 


“What I'm not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time.” 


This novel managed to create a dystopian society that is so credible it is absolutely nerve-racking. I loved that it wasn’t set in future, but explored what could be called alternative history. I’m amazed at how effortlessly this writer created this dystopian society. There is almost no talk about how society came to be organized the way it is, the characters themselves rarely question it, but somehow it all makes perfect sense. It was so credible it made me terrified. The writer of this novel doesn’t describe this dystopian world, he never examines it in detail, yet he manages to create an absolutely detailed picture of it in our mind. That was my experience. I felt he showed us this world, rather than described it, by providing us with numerous glimpses into how this world functions, he managed to make us see the big picture. It is like he gave us a puzzle we have to collect ourselves.


“I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I'd ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I'd see it was Tommy, and he'd wave, and maybe even call.” ― Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of profound sadness when I finished reading this novel. It was more than just feeling melancholically meditative; it was like experience genuine loss. I think it was realizing that for all of us time on this Earth is very limited. We always must say goodbye to those we love, taken that we were so fortunate to have found them in the first place and that perhaps is the greatest sorrow we must face. We don’t live in a society of possibilities, no matter what society we happen to live in, our social status will be primarily determined by a combination of our financial status and attributes considered desirable in that society. What matters in the end? The shadow of death lingering over this novel makes things appear surprisingly clear at times. 

What matters are those inner achievements, those that are rarely talked about and that are indeed hard to explain to somebody who does not have them in their experience. A person who has loved and been loved has lived a more fulfilling life than a person who hasn’t. Even if that person got to live only a little, even if life is terribly unjust to and hard for that person, if that person has truly loved, that it has achieved more than most. The heroes of Never Let Me Go are doing just that, being brave and vulnerable enough to love. As sad as this novel is, it also warmed my heart. Would it be too much to say that it made me rethink my life? Not at all. The older I get, the more I realize how precious are those genuine connections we establish with others. This novel does a great job of putting our lives into perspective. I would go so far as saying that I believe that reading it has a definite potential of making us better people.

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