Never Let Me Go

After slogging through the seven Harry Potter tomes I wanted to read something completely different – so I decided to read the novel, “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author best known for “Remains of the Day.” It was one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 novels of all time.

It is a subtle story, told in three parts. The first is set in Hailsham, a boarding school in England. The story is told as a memory by Kathy and concentrates on her and two other children at the school, Tommy and Ruth. The three are followed through the short time they stay together after they leave school and then their fate as adults.

I’m not sure how to describe the genre of the novel. It is usually described as a Dystopian Science Fiction Novel – or even as a “Sci-fi Thriller” – but that does the story short shrift. It is not set in a distant future, but in an alternate recent past, one shaped by fictional postwar scientific advances that are by no means beyond probability or comprehension to readers of today. I won’t discuss exactly what these are in order to not spoil the novel, in case you want to read it (and you should). If you want to know, you can read here.

But it is not a typical Science Fiction novel. It is told in Kathy’s voice, and is full of her concerns. She concentrates on the small, everyday interactions between her and the people that she loves, while the terrible truths lie sleeping, just off screen, ready to wake at any moment. She knows, but does not know. As one of the teachers at Hailsham says, “You are told, but not told.”

In the end it is a romance. Kathy loves… but she doesn’t have enough time.

Neither do any of us.


Now, after finishing, I realize that, even though my intention was to read something completely different than Harry Potter, there are a lot of similarities. The style and intent are opposites – Never Let Me Go is an elegiac postmodern literary tour-de-force while the Harry Potter books are, for all their sound and fury, children’s stories.

Yet they both start in exclusive British boarding schools for very special children. There isn’t much difference, really, between Hailsham and Hogwarts. The students are cut off from normal society – hidden from and shunned by ordinary people. The theme of children trying to find their way without parents is central to both, as are the issues of fate, duty, and sacrifice.

Both feature childhood love triangles – in Never Let Me Go it is two girls and a boy – and the difficulties of navigating the riptides of love as the three move from being children to adults.

Oh, and finally, both have been made into films… though not very many people saw the cinematic version of Never Let Me Go. I picked it up from the library and it is good – though without Kathy’s hopeful voice narrating things it is terribly sad. Somehow, actually seeing the awful fate that awaits these doomed children from Hailsham is so much harder to take.


The title of the book and film is from a song on a cassette tape that Kathy picks up at a school swap meet. For the film, they had to come up with the actual music of the fictional Judy Bridgewater.

These two songs have nothing to do with the book or film… but I like them anyway.

NEVER LET ME GO Featurette – Working Together

Official Trailer (possible spoilers)