Never Let Me Go is an unusual piece of dystopian fiction.
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro and published in 2005, Never Let Me Go focuses on Kathy, a nurse who takes care of sick individuals recovering from their “donations” in a non-specific future setting. Through her experiences as a “carer,” Kathy recalls her childhood at a privileged boarding school, a place specifically designed for “people like her.” Kathy and her friends are told they are different, though what sets them apart is only hinted at for the majority of the narrative.
Ambiguity is an important tool in science fiction. When building a new world, the best stories give the reader only what they need to draw an outline; the details are hinted at, and left to the reader to fill in. Never Let Me Go‘s hints are more subtle than most, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a person walked away wanting more information about the world that Kathy finds herself in, and how that world came to be.
The novel is a coming-of-age story, but caring about that development can be difficult when the larger context of the world is left largely murky. As the story progresses, however, the focus of the reader’s attention is less on the circumstances that have lead to Kathy’s strange upbringing, and more on what will happen to her and her friends.
The great triumph of Never Let Me Go is that, by the half way point in the story, the reader knows what will happen to the characters. Their fates are set in stone, for both character and reader. It’s a testament to Ishiguro’s skills that, even with an unknown world and a fate already decided, the relationship between the characters contines to drive to the end.
Still, at the book’s end, I couldn’t help but want more insight in the the world that Kathy and her friends found themselves. How did it come to be? How was it controlled? What did Kathy’s people allow this to happen to themselves? The book provides no answers, because, ultimately, that isn’t what it’s about. The questions remain.
Never Let Me Go might not be a satisfying read in some respects, but, when taken less as a story about a nightmare future and more as a story of how friendships develop in the face of certain oppression, it’s charms and truths outweigh any desire for explanation.