Kazuo Ishiguro may be known best for “The Remains of the Day” (though even that novel is not well known to many circles), but he has penned many other great works that receive less press and public acclaim. “Never Let Me Go” is one of those overlooked works.
Like many of Ishiguro’s novels, “Never Let Me Go” is written so that, at first, the reader feels like they are reading a random page of the protagonist’s diary, creating a feeling of disorientation, coupled with an instant camaraderie for this protagonist.
The only background the reader has to go on is the setting: England, late 1990s; and a basic description for the protagonist: Kathy H. by name, 31 years of age, and a “carer” for over 11 years.
Kathy’s diary-like thoughts continue by explaining that 11 years is a long time to be a carer, which position involves working with “donors” and keeping them calm “even before fourth donation.”
Soon, the reader is introduced to a school: Hailsham. Or, at least, it appears to be the name of a school. There is little background given to the place; all the reader knows is that Kathy went there, and so did many of the donors she has cared for and likes to care for.
Here is where the true beauty of Ishiguro’s writing kicks in. Instead of explaining in detail what Hailsham was, and why it matters so much to Kathy now all these years since she has visited, Ishiguro, through Kathy, mentions various things and places that remind her of it. This allows the reader to form their own memories of this fictional place complete with smell, sound, taste, touch, feel, and sight. Nothing is described in detail, but fleetingly, in the same way that one might experience one’s own personal recollections of the past.
Take this section, for example, on page 6: “Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hailsham. I might pass the corner of a misty field, or see part of a large house in the distance as I come down the side of a valley, even a particular arrangement of poplar trees up on a hillside, and I’ll think: ‘Maybe that’s it! I’ve found it! This actually is Hailsham!'”
This form of remembering in bits-and-pieces strongly resembles the experience of memory processing; nothing is complete, and everything is tied to a sense or feeling that can be triggered by anything. Reading “Never Let Me Go” is like experiencing memory in all its fragmented pieces, somehow woven together to form a story that will leave you feeling emotionally drained and keep you engaged even without the storyline, which in itself is full of mystery, intrigue, science-fiction-type horror, and relatable person-to-person relationships, following Kathy from her younger years at Hailsham up until her present at 31, before picking up at that present and moving into a highly emotional future.