Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is being adapted into a film for release in the next year or so. The film has quite a bit of critical buzz flying around it even though no one's seen it yet. The book itself was critically acclaimed as is most of Ishiguro's work apparently. One reviewer called it a "gothic tour de force." Now I'm reading this book and I'm thinking, this isn't gothic. Because when I think gothic I think horror and supernatural and evil. And I also think I should know because I took a class in Gothic and Horror Literature in college. However, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered what gothic means in literature and art: the natural order of things in the world is twisted and reversed and turned upside down. Now. By that definition, Never Let Go is indeed gothic because things in its world are majorly and sadly twisted.
Kathy H. has been a carer for the past twelve years and she's tired--she's ready to begin the next phase of her life and that's making donations. Now "donating" and "making donations" and "donors" are words that are for the most part treated rather cryptically throughout the book. It is only by reading between the lines that the reader figures out what exactly is being donated. It's never spelled out or explained thoroughly. Nor is it ever explained why donations are made or to whom or how these donations have come to pass.
As Kathy readies herself for the transition, she recalls her time at the idyllic and isolated boarding school Hailsham where the guardians constantly remind their charges how special they are, how they've been brought into this world for a specific purpose, how they're different from 'normal' people. Kathy remembers her time there specifically in the context of her friendships with Ruth and Tommy, two friends with whom she's reconnected long after all three have left Hailsham. Tommy and Kathy build a friendship and attempt to piece bits of cryptic information together to shed light on that which the guardians have told them and not told them.
Before long one realizes that life at Hailsham as well as the information shared with its students regarding their purpose and origins are all carefully orchestrated and timed and manipulated. Master of all manipulators is Ruth, who is infuriating in many ways, and who is determined to drive a permanent wedge between Kathy and Tommy, for her own inexplicable reasons. This is as much the story of a friendship, its eventual shattering, and then its rebuilding as it is about the secrets of Hailsham, the origins of its students, and that which makes them so special.
Lyrical, suspenseful, and mysterious, this is a hard book to put down. The perceptive reader will guess the dark secret at the center of Hailsham students' specialness in the first chapters all the while hoping that by book's end it will be revealed that they've guessed wrong. The ending itself is as bleak as the world depicted in Never Let Me Go--a world in which students are created for a specific purpose, only to be discarded after completion like a worn out machine.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie