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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro | Book Review

Author Kazuo Ishiguro has been widely praised and acknowledged for his works starting from 1980s to current day.

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Born in Japan and raised in UK, he has been recipient of accolades including the Nobel prize for literature and his books are listed on all recommended reading lists as well as become part of student curriculum. Known for the wide variety of his work, i.e., all his novels are quite different from one another in terms of setting, background, characters and themes, makes the readers look forward to his work with anticipation.

Never Let Me Go is his sixth novel and was first published in 2005. This popular book has been on our reading list for some time and recently, I had a chance to listen to this book in an audiobook format. And here are our thoughts on the book on behalf of Team Thinkerviews.

Book Cover:

Let us take a look at the cover page of this book, the gateway to the fictional story explored within.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro | Book Covers

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro | Book Covers

The title of the novel has been derived from a song by Judy Bridgewater’s Songs After the Dark which speaks of loneliness and yearning.

As you take a quick glance to the cover pages of various versions of this book you see notable differences, indicating the flavour of times when it was published. But the theme of someone indistinct, only there in images and partial presence has carried through. A sense of sadness is still conveyed when you look at these cover pages.

I would love to see a cover page for this book in future that is more visually appealing.


Our narrator is Kathy H. She is thirty-one years old and she has been a “Carer” for over eleven years now. And as she takes us through her life, we see the England of last century through her memories, and it is rather different than what you’ll remember from those days.

Kathy grew up in a boarding school called Hailsham. Her closest friends here were Tommy and Ruth. Tommy is prone to tantrums and rages and often gets teased by other boys, who take advantage of this to play pranks. And they are all looked after by teachers who are called “Guardians”. Miss Emily is the head teacher. Then there is Miss Lucy, who seems to care for them. And then there is Madame – who seems to be afraid of the “students” like someone would be afraid of the spiders.

The highlight of the social calendar for the students are the little sales and gatherings where they swap their creations with others, get tokens to buy things from sales, and over time build their collections. The best samples of their creativity are taken to a Gallery, although no one is sure where that is.

When the students are sixteen, they leave Hailsham to go and live in the Cottages. This is where they meet others like them, who grew up at various places in England, but now are here until the next step of their lives. Which is to become a carer for Donors. For that is the ultimate fate of these students.

The “”Students” are raised for specific purpose of being Donors. And once they start that process in their late teens, they have a few cycles to go through before the end…

What are the Donors? Why were they raised in a place like Hailsham? What is the purpose of their existence?

Views And Reviews:

The book starts with Kathy telling us about her present life, nearly like counting achievements, and then taking us through memory lanes, as the story unfolds. Although Never Let Me Go is very often called a science-fiction, it reads more like a layered mystery set in alternate version of our world, with  a staged tell-all scene which may have some shock value in spite of the multiple hints through the narrative. Mainly because Kathy is talking to us like someone who already is part of their world, who has the background and the context of all the ‘every day words’, that are now specific terms in her word e.g., carer, donor, complete, possible, etc.

And so it is a book to be savored for its storytelling as much as the central thread of it. Kazuo Ishiguro has said in interviews that these students came to him first as living somewhere in the stark English countryside, with a sense of terrible fate hanging over them. And it was only when the news about first successful cloning of a sheep named Dolly hit the airwaves, that he saw the framework for his students.

And that sense of unreal and sometimes desolation is visible througout – from the orphaned students, to the peculiar behavior of their teachers, to rather sad building up of their collections and developing love for inanimate objects that may have come from charitable throw-aways. But the close growing-up also shapes their behaviours around each other – Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. You can’t help but like Kathy for his quiet fortitude by end and can’t help but feel anguish for all three of them.

Is it kindness to give these students sheltered ‘normal’ childhoods, encourage their creative sides, provide education, only to send them out in the world where their remaining lives will be  lived to a purpose and will end in a few years time?

Why should they be grateful? They came here looking for something much more. What we gave them, all the years, all the fighting we did on their behalf, they knew nothing of it till now. All they feel now is disappointment, because we haven’t given them everything possible.

And by then, the book has asked us quite a few questions – what does it really mean to be a human? What does it mean to have a soul? And how far scientific experimentation can go without crossing ethical boundaries and moral obligations? And why, o why, do we not run away from such fates? What makes us accept terrible lives, inescapable fates and lives that never turn out to be what they could have been?

And in that way, this book is not just a science-fiction in dystopian world, it also is shining a light on that strength somewhere inside us that helps us face every day and keep living against all odds.

I listened to this in an audiobook format, where the narrator helps bring the grave tones of the books to life. The book has also been adapted into a beautifully haunting movie version with a screenplay by Alex Garland and starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Nightly. So, you have may platforms to enjoy this story.



A thought-provoking and at times chilling tale of questioning what it is to be humans and what it is to keep facing every day when the future is all but a tentative blur….

ThinkerViews Rating:

Around 8 stars out of 10.

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