Obsession of the Week: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

“All children should believe they are special.” So says the Amazon review of the novel Never Let Me Go by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. I just finished reading this novel over the weekend and can’t put it out of my mind. The more distance I get from reading it, the more I am able to connect things in the book.

It’s nearly impossible to tell you about the plot of the novel without giving too much away. I hate when people say that but in this case it’s really true. The Amazon review describes it like this “The students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny.” To say any more than that is to rob you of the joys of reading as this world reveals itself to you.

The book’s slow steady reveals itself as the story moves forward in the lives of three students from Hailsham (Kathy, Tommy and Ruth). I found it to be about the entirety of life: love, regret, hope, disappointment, death and how we look back over the events of our life as we get older. Looking back longing to have those moments again and longing to go back and not just do it all again, but do it all again better than we did the first time.

Like Ishiguro’s most known work The Remains of the Day, the theme of an importance of duty over personal emotion is very apparent and tragic. In that regards the two books are strikingly similar. Unlike The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go is strangely set in a non-existent 1990s world. “Non-existent” because, believe it or not, the book has a science fiction element. Don’t let that scare you. There are no aliens or fantasy-type creatures. It’s strictly human. Its style has been compared by critics to Dickens’ Great Expectations.

When it was released in 2005, it was critically hailed. However, the online reviews from readers have mixed reaction. It’s either a book you get or you don’t, and the online reviews are clearly written in those two camps. When I first finished it, I liked it. Now the more I think about it, the more of the depth is revealed to me. The ending is hauntingly tragic.

Fox Searchlight released a movie version late this last year. It’s scheduled for a wide release later this month. I’ve included the trailer to the film. If you want to experience the full effect of the book – DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER – it’s full of spoilers. I know some of you will want to know more than I am letting on here – so have at it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

This book is so layered with detail that it feels like it will haunt me for years with details and insight about life. I think it will be a while before I’m able to let it go. For that reason, it’s my obsession of the week. If you’ve read it – leave me a comment on what you thought. I’d love to read what others think about it.


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