Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

I’ve never really been a fan of dystopian fiction, but encouraged by reading When We Were Orphans also by Ishiguro, I decided to read Never Let Me Go anyway. Whilst I don’t think this novel tops When We Were Orphans, Never Let Me Go almost seems to be able to lull the reader into forgetting that you’re reading dystopian fiction and instead raises some heartfelt questions about what it is to be human.


Set in England in a dystopian version of the 1990s, Never Let Me Go follows the life of Kathy H., the main character and the narrator, as she recounts what it is like to be a “donor”, right from early childhood. Kathy H. and her friends Ruth and Tommy are all human clones raised to donate their organs so that other human beings can live their lives free from diseases such as cancer and motor neurone disease. As Kathy and her friends grow older though, they begin to notice all sorts of tensions and secrets around them concerning the nature of their lives and this tension reflects the growing strains between themselves. Will the three characters ever fully understand or even escape their horrific fate?


Although presenting a dystopian version of Earth, one of the main strengths of Never Let Me Go is how Ishiguro probes questions about the way we lead our own lives. In the novel, when donors die after giving as many donations as they can, the terrible reality is glossed over by saying that they have “completed”, and the other human beings are barely aware of the lives that donors like Kathy experience – a stark reminder of the hardships that some people go through so that others can live in comfort.


The issue I have with this novel, though, is its inevitability. I enjoyed all the thought-provoking messages about humanity, but I kept expecting the novel to take off at some stage, for a drastic turning point that would make the characters become more active rather than passive. This was also my issue with the film version, and I had hoped that the book would be considerably better. I did enjoy Never Let Me Go and I would recommend it purely on account of its theme of morality. This being the second Ishiguro novel I’ve read, however, I have to confess my disappointment that it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations.

By Julia Molloy

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