Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

I don’t pick up many recent novels from the contemporary modern literature section and even then there is often something odd about the work. I also usually stick to authors I like, for example Michael Chabon and Umberto Eco. I don’t know why I don’t do so more often. I know there is plenty of interesting stuff around. Anyways, to cut to the chase, I picked up Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro partially it has been adapted to a movie this year which provided some publicity that I noticed as it was mentioned that it contained some speculative fiction (a different word for science fiction in the sense that the story is not aiming for science fiction but using minor elements for the purpose of the plot; the definition of course leaves certain space to breathe). Just on a hunch I decided to try it.

First off I can state that the speculative fiction part is right and that the novel in essence is a romantic drama to which have been added some peculiarities. These were probably added by the author to give the novel some more weight and depth as the romantic drama is nothing out of the ordinary if it weren’t for the speculative elements.

The story is told from a first person perspective in which the narrator is recalling her life with the two companions who form the main characters of the story. Ishiguro tells the story in a first draft style. The narrator regularly infuses flashbacks to explain what she is talking about, thinking the background should be well explained. This creates a patchy structure which dominates in the beginning and slowly becomes less as the story turns into a more linear development. It is a nice concept to write the story like this, as if the narrator is recalling events for the first time, maybe even dictating them to a recorder. The downside of this concept is that it makes an uneasy read as the story never seems really to get started. You feel like you are just reading a collection of random flashbacks. The persistent reader will eventually get to a more regular story development.

The story itself, and the speculative element of it, is actually nowhere that original. I recall a movie from that same year telling a story in a similar concept, with a difference. In my afterthoughts on the book I confirmed my feeling that the speculative element was only used a tool with far too limited incorporation of the implications of the concept. I felt, and still do, that there were some weird situations created that didn’t make sense. The movie took the implications more into account to make it acceptable, but the book does not. The pretty much apathetic approach of the characters and other people felt just wrong and this is the greatest flaw of the book. Ishiguro managed to write the story in a conceptually well constructed and balanced way, but only as long as you don’t start thinking outside the boundaries of the framework.

It is this framework which, although it works well, made me decide the author could have written a far more powerful story if he had not only stuck to the romance but also reached out to the environment and society in which it takes place.

A different and minor flaw is the lack of dialogue in the book. The narrator is, especially in the first half, mainly telling about events and only sparsely putting in some dialogue. To me dialogue gives the characters their character and created a greater dynamic and drama to the story. This was certainly proven in last part of the story when the dialogue started carrying the story, giving it the impact which would make the reader think positively about the book. But this would only be because of the last part.

With the lack of sufficient dialogue I never got a good feeling for the two other main characters (with a first person narrator one at least gets plenty there). They remained as the narrator tells us about them, leaving little space for our own interpretation. Only a few of the side characters get some attention while most remain rather two-dimensional.

For its concept and construction this is a well written romantic novel, but with a somewhat wasted potential, certainly when the speculative fiction used is far from original, I’ve seen and read similar things before. Thus, the author could have used it in a different way, although that would have required changing the concept and construction. Overall it is a fine read but to me a bit overrated. Nevertheless it does not surprise me it would have done well within the niche it aims for.

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