One of the most acclaimed authors of recent times, Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Remains of the Day’ has won the Booker Prize in 1989 and his other three novels An Artist of the Floating World, When We Were Orphans and his most recent work, Never Let Me Go have been short-listed for the same, the latter also being part of the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
Never Let Me Go (2005) is a dystopian story of thirty-one year old Kathy, who works as a carer and is about to become a donor because that is the fate assigned to people like her, people who’re unlike you and me, people who exist for a reason, people who were students of Hailsham. Initially, it’s difficult to figure out exactly what makes Hailsham different from the usual boarding schools but as the novel unfolds, comprehension slowly begins to dawn and we know just how extraordinary these students are. The truth about the existence of these students is not once stated directly throughout the book, though the language and dialogues are suggestive of the facts. Ishiguro drops hints and odd details in carefully disguised language, using various euphemisms and epithets which make the reader think of them.
Despite the fact that the novel is set in the late 1990s, it has a futuristic angle to it. Once the truth of the matter is known, we realize that the world of Kathy and her friends is an alternate universe altogether. It is written in first person narrative style, narrated by Kathy who reminisces the past throughout. The conversational style of the narrative makes this simply written book an easy read but also a page turner, mostly because the reader is so curious to know the whole truth about the characters.
It is divided into three parts, the first set in Hailsham, second in the Cottages and the third part focuses on the adult of life of Kathy. In Hailsham, the students are taught by various guardians who, even though explain to them what they’re expected to do once they grow up, keep a lot of bitter details from them which are only divulged towards the end of the book. Once they leave the protective boundaries of Hailsham and enter the Cottages, they get the first taste of the real world and realize that Hailsham is forever past them. The final part describes Kathy’s life as a carer where she is reunited with Ruth and Tommy.
Kathy, the protagonist is a fairly level headed girl. She is best friends with the bossy Ruth, who comes across as an endearingly annoying girl trying very hard to fit into the life in the Cottages. For most part of the novel, Ruth and Tommy, are classmates and their close friend whose infamous temper used to get him into a lot of trouble, are a couple. However, by the end of the novel, Tommy’s significant other changes and that makes much more sense.
Throughout the novel, Ishiguro has stated the fact, through the voice of Kathy, that memory is not completely reliable. And even though man is a mishmash of a lot of memories, most of it is filtered and alters with time. After sometime, whatever is left of it is an entirely subjective account of events. This has been depicted by how Kathy sometimes contradicted her own recollection of an event by stating that later on Ruth told her that it wasn’t like she remembered it at all. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy had their own different versions of the same event.
The title of the novel has been taken from a song on a cassette tape called Songs After Dark by fictitious singer Judy Bridgewater. It has a metaphorical significance as Kathy and her friends are unable to let go of Hailsham, even though towards the end of the novel, it is shut down and they grudgingly accept the fact that they can’t cling to it forever.
Even though Kathy never once states that she’s unhappy with her fate or complains about the condescending attitude of the society, which treats her as a non-person, the novel has an undertone of pathos that is hard to shake off. It is a haunting story of love, friendship and unusual existential angst which grows on you and leaves a bittersweet aftertaste.
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