As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
…A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance…
I have so many mixed feelings about Never Let Me Go, so I think it’ll be easiest to break it down with positives and negatives… Also, there are some spoilers, but I think they are ones that most people who know about the book and/or movie are probably already aware of, as I was before I read the book.
The Good Stuff
– This is one of the most honest, vulnerable narratives I’ve ever read. This book takes place in a past that never existed, in a late 20th century England where clones exist, and yet somehow, Kathy and her peers feel so incredibly real.
– For the most part, I was really engaged with the narrative and found it somewhat suspenseful, even though it was slowly paced.
– The moral/ethical implications brought up about human clones being created and raised for the sole purpose of organ donation is certainly fascinating. And it was especially interesting what Miss Emily said at the end, but I won’t say anything further than that.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
– Even though the book is fairly short, the story felt a little too drawn out, and so while the narrative was mostly engaging, I did find myself bogged down by it at times. I think the worst offender of this was during Part 2, when Kathy shares about her time in The Cottages.
– I had so many questions about Kathy and the others’ way of life that were not fully explained and I really would have liked for them to be.
– As many of you know I try to get a feel for the content of a book before I read it. I was under the impression this one did not really feature sex, and it was not graphic per say, but Kathy spent a lot of time explaining the sexual relations between students at Hailsham and at The Cottages. I think what bothered me so much was that though they are given what sounds like pretty decent sex education by their guardians at Hailsham who urge them to treat sex with care, all the students treat it like most people treat kissing. It seemed extremely casual and in fact, though Kathy mentions that she knows it messes with her feelings and that the guardians told them this as well, there never seemed to be any emotion attached to it. Students who had a crush on someone would just have sex with them, and Kathy would tell us this matter of factly, making it seem like not a big deal.
Apparently the students also cannot reproduce, which may have been another reason why they did not think much of these actions. The whole thing made me feel sad for them, because I felt they did not fully understand the point of sex (and I don’t just mean reproduction, but what it means to become an intimate with a person as well). As I thought about it, I wondered if what we are supposed to gather is that since Kathy and the other students were not brought up in a normal environment where they had nuclear families and could go out on dates and all that, that this was the only way they really knew how to discover anything about the opposite sex. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that was what I decided to take from it, which really made my heart ache all the more for Kathy and the other students. Which in a way is good I suppose, but I wish I didn’t have to feel so bogged down by the whole thing.
Just as an advisory, though this talk was never really graphic, there were a couple of mentions of specific things that might be uncomfortable for some.
– I wanted WAY MORE about the whole clone thing. This book is way more about the human aspect than the science fiction aspect, which I do appreciate and understand, but I still wanted more about the cloning stuff than there was.
– Ruth annoyed me to no end. But in the way that a well-crafted, unlikable character ought to. There were no cardboard cutouts here, which is a positive. But man, Ruth wore me out!
– The ending left me feeling kind of hollow and hopeless. I wasn’t angry or upset, and it felt like a natural ending for the direction the story was heading. It also didn’t feel completely pointless because Kathy’s life story does seem worth telling, but there’s no happy ending, no hope of change, nothing or no one to save the day. And I’m not too found of endings like that.
This book is about humanity first and foremost. Kathy’s narrative is unreliable (you know because she admits it many times), vulnerable, and interesting, and yet also detached in some ways. The story is both so complex and so simplistic. It was one of the most unique novels I’ve ever read. Yet I wanted more from it and the ending left me feeling a little blank. It’s so hard to explain. I think I’ve finally settled on giving it 3 stars though. I might have disliked more than I liked, but at the same time, some of these dislikes were actually still good elements of storytelling within the novel, just frustrating to deal with.
There is a movie adaptation for this book that I have not seen, but I heard about it before the book. As I was reading the book I wondered how the movie could be very good since the story is so slow and quiet. After watching the trailer though, I realized that the period of time for a movie might actually be the perfect amount of time in which to tell the story. I’m also intrigued by the fact that in the trailer Kathy and the others have to scan their wrists, something not mentioned in the book. I feel that would have been an interesting aspect to read about. If I can see an edited for TV version of this movie I might watch it, but I don’t want to otherwise since there the sexual content is more graphic in the movie.
Content Advisory: Two or three instances of swearing. All the sex stuff mentioned in the review.
Also check out Jamie’s review for additional thoughts.