I try, wherever possible, to keep my reviews as positive as I can. I feel the world has enough negativity sloshing around without me adding to it. I’m really struggling to find anything positive to say about this book, though.
Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy, a girl who grew up in a children’s home in the 1980’s (I think). Kathy and all the other children she lived with are clones. They were created with the idea that when they reach their twenties, they will start ‘donating’ their organs and will continue doing so until they die.
Kazuo’s writing style in this book is very conversational. It’s as if Kathy is dictating her memoirs to someone she has met in a coffee shop. Kathy’s chattiness is interesting, but she goes off on complete tangents an awful lot, telling the reader a story about something seemingly random. Then she goes back to the original point she was making, except that she’s been rambling off on her tangent for so long you can’t remember what the original point actually was.
This brings me on to the plot. Oh my, the plot. I think Never Let Me Go is kind of a concept book - the underlying concept being ‘how we remain human under inhumane conditions’. I think. I get that concept books don’t necessarily have to have masses of action and be really plot-driven, but I would still expect something to happen. Most of the book seems to be a collection of boarding school/children’s home anecdotes and the children don’t seem any different from non-clone children: they play, they learn, they squabble. When they reach their teens, they think about sex. If this is the author’s point, then I think he could have said it in a lot fewer than 300 pages.
When the children are old enough to leave their home/school, they go and live in a sort of sheltered accommodation place - some cottages on a farm. Again, nothing happens. They mooch around, read, go for walks, have sex with each other. They don’t even really seem to speculate about their impending donations (which you would think would be at the forefront of their minds).
Because the characters in this book are clones, there is naturally some speculation as to who their ‘original’ is. But this just seems to be another area where nothing really happens. At one point, someone thinks they may have found Kathy’s ‘original’, so they drive up to Norfolk to check it out. It isn’t her. They squabble. Then they come home again.
I think part of the problem is that I’ve read so many books recently where the author has had an interesting idea and has extrapolated it out, investigating the ‘What Would Happen If...’ aspects interestingly and intelligently, that I just feel a bit robbed when the author starts with an idea that has so much potential and just meanders around before stopping.
Okay, now for the characters. They were deeply unlikeable. Tommy was a drip, Kathy was po-faced and Ruth was a spoilt brat. Maybe their negative characteristics were supposed to be a result of their inhumane treatment? Who knows? Not me. All I know is that a book that is neither plot-driven nor character-driven tends to go nowhere and does it at a very slow pace.
Trying to think of a rating for this book is really difficult. It might well be that I’m just not ‘getting’ it, that there are layers of sub-plot and metaphors and social commentary that I’ve not seen, but at the end of the day all I can do is rate it on how much I liked it.