Ishiguro borrows much from his award-winning novel: his story is told in first-person limited by a protagonist currently in transit along a prosaic albeit, comfortable English countryside. The primary action takes place in a series of flashbacks, and protagonist Kathy preludes these hauntingly. This prods the reader gently, reminding her that no matter how innocuous the atmosphere, something terrible is afoot.
Ishiguro’s tactic works well, perhaps even better than it did in “Remains,” and in no small part is this due to his subject matter. Almost at once the reader is plunged into Hailsham, a sort of boarding school set in rural England. The children here engage principally in the making of art and crafts, upon which the professors, called ‘guardians,’ place an obsessive devotion. Much is made of the students who are able to create fine works of art, which are collected and hoarded and treasured with great pomp. Yet the ultimate compliment comes from the stern and awe-inspiring “Madame” who procures only the best of the best for her mysterious ‘Gallery.’
From Kathy’s narration one gathers her astuteness and self-consciousness, attributes that render the friendships she makes with the temper-tantrum throwing Tommy and rebel Ruth visceral. However as Ruth and Tommy begin to develop, Hailsham assumes a sinister veneer. One learns that these children are clones bred for the purpose of organ donation and that following their internment at Hailsham, they will train as ‘carers’ before they become ‘doners.’ Most of this unfolds from the memories and introspections of Kathy, which enables reality to intercede in a plot that would otherwise appear vaguely science fiction.
For better or for worse, Ishiguro picks and picks away at the moral and ethical issues of the cloning world and saves the bulk of his attack for the last fifty pages. In the meantime there are Kathy’s relationships on which to focus, and they are built with painstaking care and simplicity. The same can be said of the plot, which is unsparing and admirably tight almost to a fault. Ishiguro, like his characters, is not one for excess words or details.
“Never Let Me Go” makes for a fine read which one may enjoy reading in bulk or piecemeal. One of the most disturbing pieces of the plot concerns the fascinating idea of sex, which is treated by the Hailsham students as a commodity to be traded and haggled over. Maneuvered and roughed and jarred, sex has never before been so impersonal. There’s no emotional thrill-riding here although lingering dread and unease and chiseled indelibly into the reader’s consciousness.