It's a thoughtful, crafty, and finally very disquieting look at the effects of dehumanization on any group that's subject to it. In Ishiguro's subtle hands, these effects are far from obvious … Ishiguro's tone is perfect: Kathy is intelligent but nothing extraordinary...It's all hideously familiar and gruesomely compelling to anyone who ever kept a teenage diary … What is art for? the characters ask. They connect the question to their own circumstances, but surely they speak for anyone with a connection with the arts: What is art for? … The people in it aren't heroic. The ending is not comforting. Nevertheless, this is a brilliantly executed book by a master craftsman who has chosen a difficult subject: ourselves, seen through a glass, darkly.
The novel is the starkest instance yet of a paradox that has run through all Ishiguro's work. Here is a writer who takes enormous gambles, then uses his superior gifts to manage the risk as tightly as possible. The question is what he's gambling on … The theme of cloning lets him push to the limit ideas he's nurtured in earlier fiction about memory and the human self; the school's hothouse seclusion makes it an ideal lab for his fascination with cliques, loyalty and friendship. The voice he's written for Kathy H. is a feat of imaginative sympathy and technique … The eeriest feature of this alien world is how familiar it feels. It's like a stripped-down, haiku vision of children everywhere, fending off the chaos of existence by inventing their own rules.
For most of the novel Ishiguro is primarily concerned with the three as children and with the odd world they inhabit at Hailsham. The school, or institution, or whatever one cares to call it, is located on a large parcel of beautiful land, isolated from the outer world … They are so caught up in the rituals and routines of Hailsham, though, that they have little time for speculation about the distant time of adulthood … This quite wonderful novel [is] the best Ishiguro has written since the sublime The Remains of the Day. It is almost literally a novel about humanity: what constitutes it, what it means, how it can be honored or denied.
Conditions in this brave-new-world Britain, and exactly how Kathy and her friends fit into them, are all spooky authorial surprises, and (as is the case with most things) when you’re reading the novel it is best to begin without too many prior assumptions. Kathy is a ‘carer’; her patients give ‘donations,’ occasionally as many as four. Inch by inch, the curtain is lifted, and we see what these terms mean and why the world is this way … The strangeness...is ingeniously evoked—by means of literal-minded accounts of things that don’t quite add up—and teasing out the hidden story is the main pleasure of the book … Unfortunately, Never Let Me Go includes a carefully staged revelation scene, in which everything is, somewhat portentously, explained. It’s a little Hollywood, and the elucidation is purchased at too high a price. The scene pushes the novel over into science fiction, and this is not, at heart, where it seems to want to be.
As in so many of Mr. Ishiguro's novels, there is no conventional plot here. Instead, a narrator's elliptical reminiscences provide carefully orchestrated clues that the reader must slowly piece together, like a detective, to get a picture of what really happened and why … The result, amazingly enough, is not the lurid thriller the subject matter might suggest. Rather, it's an oblique and elegiac meditation on mortality and lost innocence: a portrait of adolescence as that hinge moment in life when self-knowledge brings intimations of one's destiny, when the shedding of childhood dreams can lead to disillusionment, rebellion, newfound resolve or an ambivalent acceptance of a preordained fate … What Mr. Ishiguro has done so artfully in these pages is not only assemble a chilling jigsaw puzzle, but also create a distinct fictional world.
Whatever surnominal adjective Kazuo Ishiguro finally bequeaths us (Ishiguronian? Ishiguronic?), its meaning is surely settled: suggestive of an emotionally hampered, stuffily self-expressive individual who unreliably surveys his or her personal past to tragic effect … Suffice it to say that Ishiguro serves up the saddest, most persuasive science fiction you'll read. Set in ‘England, late 1990s,’ the novel posits a technological breakthrough whose effect is to condemn the children of Hailsham to a fate that was, until this novel, unthinkable. Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful … With its fantastic, inky bleakness, Never Let Me Go itself mutates the meaning of ‘Ishiguroish,’ or ‘Ishiguroesque,’ or whatever epithet sticks to this wonderful writer.
Never Let Me Go is a queer fish – a romantic triangle wedged into a science fiction premise – and it compels multiple readings as only a frustrating novel by a great writer can … Ishiguro tries to break our hearts, and half succeeds. More often, alas, he has to console himself with bending our minds … Reading Never Let Me Go is like attending the bedside of an organ transplant patient forever on the verge of rejecting. We yearn for the science fiction and romantic aspects of Ishiguro's story to match and thrive. We want desperately for it to work, but somehow, in spite of all that, it never quite takes.
An implied evil lurks in the early parts of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, a futuristic novel that ends, in fact, in the late 1990s (as if the future had already arrived but hadn't shown itself yet). It is all odd puzzles and hints; then gradually the evil becomes evident and by the end chokingly visceral … Ishiguro has the audacity and technical mastery to wind us through a mystification as irritating as it is ingenious in a novel that may be his best, and which is certainly his most resonant and moving … The young people live in a limbo of rumor, partly knowing, partly not knowing, partly not wanting to know their origins as part of a state cloning program for medical purposes or their fate.
The death sentence that is Hailsham can for much of the book only be read between the lines, and as in Ishiguro’s five previous novels, horror lies in the mundane … A 1984 for the bioengineering age, the novel is a warning and a glimpse into the future whose genius will be recognized as reality catches up … Creating art, the best of which is mysteriously taken by a guardian known as Madame, shows students what they’re like ‘inside’ and prepares them in a small way for their greater sacrifice, even as Madame shows their work to the outside world to prove that clones have souls and deserve an education if not an entire life … The most haunting thing about
The narrator, known only as Kathy H, begins the book speaking obliquely of carers and donors, and later of Sales, guardians, completions, possibles, and Exchanges, all innocuous words that take on secretive and ominous meanings as Ishiguro brings them up repeatedly in different contexts before explaining their significance … In one sense, Never Let Me Go is a mystery novel, with the question of the characters' purpose and future hanging constantly in the air. But the clues are all in place, and the mystery is easy enough to unravel; the book isn't meant as a thriller with a big, high-impact reveal at the end. It's far more like one of Margaret Atwood's recent novels … Once again, it's amazing how Ishiguro says so much, and so well, about people who themselves say so little.