Never Let Me Go is a 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born British author most famous for his Booker Prize winning novel The Remains of the Day, which was about a butler in 1930s England. He’s not the first name you’d think of when it comes to apocalyptic or dystopian fiction, but Never Let Me Go, although primarily a love story, has a distinctly dystopian flavour.
The book is set in 1980s England (or what looks like 1980s England) and is narrated by Kathy H. It consists of Kathy’s memories about her schooldays at Hailsham, an idyllic boarding school in the South of England, and her two closest friends, Tommy and Ruth. However, it becomes clear early on that this is no ordinary school, and we slowly piece that the children at Hailsham are clones and destined to donate their organs, and die, in their early twenties.
Never Let Me Go would be a great novel even without the donor stuff. Ishiguro writes beautifully (he won the Booker prize remember) and is brilliant at creating complex and believable characters; the three main characters and their various relationships and fallings-out are wonderfully written. However, the dystopian aspect is probably the most interesting aspect of the book, for a couple of reasons.
First are the ethical questions it raises about the creation of human beings purely for organ donation. We find out that this is a nationwide scheme, which has led to diseases such as cancer being eradicated. The children are also very well treated, receiving a good education and being carefully cared for during the donations. The book itself is neutral―it’s up to us to decide.
Another important point is how realistic the novel is. A lot of dystopian fiction can too unbelievable to take seriously, but Never Let Me Go is extremely plausible. The fact the children are well treated helps with this; it’s hard to imagine people accepting such a thing if the children were kept in cages, but giving them an education and caring for them could easily be used as justification. In that way the book could be seen as a warning of how something so awful could be permitted.
Finally, it’s interesting how the children react as they grow up and realise what’s in store. If this were a Hollywood film, the protagonists would probably go on the run and bring down the system. In Never Let Me Go they meekly accept their fate, and even volunteer to start donating. It never occurs to them to question the morality of the system, and they make no attempts to escape (although this wouldn’t be difficult). In a way it’s very English, a sort of mustn’t grumble, stiff upper lip response, and again is very believable.
To sum up, you should definitely give this book a read. It’s not a barrel of laughs, but it’s original, moving, and thought-provoking.