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August 3, 2016

Never Let Me Go

by Anne Paddock

I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart.

Never Let Me Go was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day. Nominated for several awards (Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award), Never Let Me Go is the story of three children – Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy – who were students at a prestigious and very exclusive boarding school in the English countryside called Hailsham.

Never_Let_Me-GoNarrated by 31-year old Kathy, the story begins in the late 1990’s with the narrator looking back upon her life. Kathy has been a carer for donor patients for nearly 12 years – an astonishing long time in a job that usually lasts just a few years. Her tenure is coming to an end and she is trying to make sense of her life – a life that has been primarily defined by her friendship with Ruth and Tommy, her two closet friends that she grew up with at Hailsham, a boarding school for children from age 5 to 16 run by a woman named Miss Emily and the guardians.

Without giving the story away, suffice to say that things are not what they appear to be. Told they are very special and to take care of their health, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy dream of their future lives outside the walls of Hailsham although they are perfectly happy and well taken care of at the school.

The title of the book “Never Let Me Go” is the name of a song that Kathy discovers when she is eleven. There is a dual significance to the title which is revealed to the reader gradually as the story unfolds. Part science fiction, part horror, and part social conscience, Never Let Me Go reads like a traditional fictional novel in that there is a general acceptance of the way things are done because it’s just the way it is. Better to avoid, hide, not ask too many questions, and ignore reality than to seek out the truth because reality is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And, as with almost any social issue, the minority feels greatly outnumbered by the self-righteous powerful who believe “some animals are more equal than others” (Animal Farm).  If you’ve ever read the work of Don DeLillo, Anthony Doerr or George Saunders, then you’ll feel right at home reading this dystopian novel.

So you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realize that you really are different to them; that there are people out there,…who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why – and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.

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