LitStack Recs: my name on his tongue & Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

SPOILERS! Although most who know of this book (or the movie that came from it) has some idea of the “grand reveal” that runs throughout, I’m still going to warn those who don’t know/don’t want to know that I will be alluding to it in this recommendation.

I have heard much about the artistry of Kazuo Ishiguro, but had never read anything of his until I decided to pick up Never Let Me Go while waiting for my turn to read his newest book, The Buried Giant, which I requested from the library shortly before its March release (I’m now #19 out of 197 existing requests).never

I’m happy to say that Never Let Me Go surpassed my expectations, and I actually couldn’t wait to make it a recommendation here at LitStack.

The story is told through the eyes of 31-year-old Kathy H., as she ruminates on her days at Hailsham, an elite British boarding school. She had many friends and acquaintances at Hailsham, but none closer than mercurial Ruth and delicate Tommy. The students at Hailsham are told repeatedly that they are special – and they are, but not for the reasons that we originally assume. As Kathy, who is poised at the threshold of an expected but nevertheless major change in her life, draws upon reminiscences of Ruth and Tommy, floating between memories of them as children, as young adults who eventually go their separate ways, and finally as adults at the end of their lives under her care, we are able to observe the ebb and flow of the perception of an ordinary life, yet one where friendships are not merely important, but may in the end be all that really matters.

What impressed me most about Never Let Me Go was what it wasn’t. Although it has elements of being a dystopian science fiction work, it is set in the past, floating between the 1970s and the 1990s (although it is a far different past than what we know to be true). Genetics and human biology are at the core of the story, yet even I know that the science alluded to in the book is not strictly accurate; but we let it pass because that’s really a minor issue when it comes to the story itself. And even though what is happening to the characters is, when you stop and think of it, quite horrific, the book does not read as a horror story, simply because the question of fairness is never raised.

There is no rebellion in Never Let Me Go, no fists being shaken at the cosmos, no misdirected angst sabotaging otherwise promising relationships, no running away in an attempt to escape fate, no late night revelations about what will never be. There is not even a movement towards acceptance – there simply is the way it is. This isn’t at all what one might expect from a story where the people involved have been given life for a specific purpose and have a very limited future. But because we don’t have to “deal with” this kind of expected drama, we can hone in on the heartbreak of the innocence of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth.

It’s a devastating read and a beautifully lyrical one, both for what it is, and for what it doesn’t aim to be. Highly, highly recommended.

—Sharon Browning