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Never Let Me Go    by Kazuo Ishiguro order for
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Never Let Me Go is literary speculative fiction, set in a late 1990s England that is different from the real one in certain key societal directions. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005. We learn quickly that the narrator, Kathy H. is approaching the end of her time as a carer for donors. Donors of what we wonder, and the horror of that question pulls the reader through the rest of the story.

Kathy reflects on her childhood, looked after by guardians (most of them uncomfortable with those in their care) at Hailsham, a boarding school in the English countryside. The children's artistic talents are strongly encouraged, the best of their work being selected for Madame's mysterious Gallery. Kath's best friend is Ruth, and over time she becomes close to Tommy, who was picked on for many years by the others for a lack of creative ability and easily provoked temper tantrums. What strikes the reader immediately is how careful these kids are to preserve each other's small fantasies, how much they and those who take care of them circle the truth, and how large small things loom in their closed society.

The story's title is also that of a song on a music tape that small Kath clung to, and whose disappearance (after Madame saw her swaying in time to the song, holding an imaginary baby) upset her greatly. And it represents how these children grew up - 'fearful of the world around us, and ... unable quite to let each other go.' Kath leads us through her growing years and shifting relationships with Ruth and Tommy in an account that, while innocent on the surface, has sinister undercurrents. It's a long, leisurely story development that continually tantalizes the reader, hinting at a society based on systematic cloning and the harvesting of organs. Kath's life is one of loss - lost childhood, lost romance, lost loved ones, and she is forced to let go.

The story is thought provoking and well written, in particular the details of interpersonal interactions at different ages. It is also very fatalistic, which annoyed me more and more as it developed. There was no sign of rebellion, and equally few indications of serious coercion. Read and enjoy Never Let Me Go for its basic premise and excellent character development. But, if you're at all like me, you'll feel like shaking all these lost children as they flock like lambs to horrific fates.

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