Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

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 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2005

I have been wanting to read this book for ages, but for some reason it never made it to the top of my reading pile. I’m making a conscious effort to ensure that this doesn’t happen to the most important books in my collection and so Never Let Me Go became a priority. I’m so happy that it lived up to my expectations and that I will be joining the hoards of people who rave about this book.

Never Let Me Go is set in an English boarding school, but things aren’t quite as you’d expect them to be. Over the course of the book we slowly discover that it isn’t set in our world, but in one with subtle differences. I won’t say any more than that as I’d hate to give it away. All I can say is that it is an incredibly well constructed book, where the power is in what is left unsaid, as much as what is.

Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.” So you’re waiting, even if you don’t
quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why–and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs.

It was such a subtle book that I found myself reading it very slowly, studying each paragraph for clues about what was happening. The ending left me with more questions than answers, but I quite liked the way some things were left open –  it means that it can be discussed for longer, making it a perfect book group choice.

I had expected the text to be challenging and so I was impressed by how easy and accessible it was to read. This combined with a thought provoking and original plot make Never Let Me Go a modern classic.

Highly recommended.

The Never Let You Go movie is released in the US on 1st of October and in the UK on 14th January 2011.

WARNING!! DO NOT WATCH THE AMERICAN TRAILER FOR THIS FILM IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK – IT GIVES EVERYTHING AWAY!

The UK trailer for the film is below – it is almost spoiler free:

I was quite worried about how the adaptation would be handled, but I’ve been reassured by watching the trailers and am looking forward to seeing the film.

Did you enjoy Never Let Me Go?
What did you think of the trailer?


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66 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    I also put myself off reading this for ages, but was pleasantly surprised that it was quite accessible – what a gripping story – I was so keen to see how it would end.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I wonder why we were all so scared of it? Strange how we get these false impressions in our head!

  2. Sandy says:

    Yay! I’m so pleased that you liked this book. It is a very subtle book, but the whole creepiness of the thing sneaks up on you, then it just breaks your heart. It affected me for weeks after I read it. I can’t wait to see the movie. My sister said in the critics circles, it didn’t live up to the book, but I will still see it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’m not surprised that the film isn’t as good as the book. I can’t imagine it getting close, but was quite impressed with the trailer. I look forward to finding out for myself :-)

  3. Teresa says:

    I read this back when it was fairly new and listened to the audio a couple of years ago and enjoyed it both times. I’m not overly excited about the film, though. I don’t know why, but it’s just a book I never had any desire to see made into a film. I may see it, but I’m in no hurry.

    Interesting thing about spoilers. I knew going in to my first read what was happening and it didn’t hurt my experience at all (although I wouldn’t intentionally reveal anything). And I heard an interview with Ishiguro a few weeks ago in which he explained exactly what was happening and basically said that the “secret” isn’t really the point of the story at all. It was pretty interesting to hear him say that. (Here’s a link to the spoilery interview, if you’re interested: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129880145

    1. Jackie says:

      SPOILERS!!
      Teresa, Thank you for highlighting the interview – it was very interesting to read his thoughts. I guess you’re right about the spoiler. As a reader you sort of know all the way through, but it is never really confirmed.

      I found it interesting to know that Ishiguro wanted to base his story around how we bring up children – what is right to tell them and when. I hadn’t thought about that being the central theme. For some reason I kept thinking about animals – whether or not it is OK to eat them if they have a good life and just because they are bred for a specific purpose doesn’t mean they like being killed! Fascinating how people get very different things from the same book!

  4. Amy says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. It’s one of those ones that I keep hearing about :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I hope that you decide to read it soon :-)

  5. Meghan says:

    Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my very favorite authors. He’s very, very subtle, but that’s just the type of writing that I love. I really enjoyed this one too – I don’t know if it would hold up to a reread, though. Part of the wonder of his books is how he slowly reveals all the important stuff. I haven’t actually reread any of his books yet, but I think I’ll have to when I run out of new ones!

    I’ve not seen anything about the film and to be honest am not sure I’ll see it. I might check for some reviews first. =)

    1. I also love his books, Meghan! Even The Remains of the Day which is quite slow-going is brilliant.

      I’m planning to read The Unconsoled soon (i.e., within the next 6 months or so). No idea what that will be like.

      1. Jackie says:

        Judith, It is great to know that you love his books too – I’m sure I’ll enjoy them too :-)

    2. Jackie says:

      Meghan, This is the first of his novels that I’ve read (although I didn’t enjoy his short story collection) I think that I’ll love the rest of his books as he has such a unique style. I look forward to investigating the rest of his back catalogue.

  6. Andi says:

    I’m in the same boat. I’ve had this one on my stacks forever, but it never wiggles its way to the top. With the film on the horizon I really want to go ahead and get to it. Plus, it is so often admired, I need to see what all the hooplah is about.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, It sounds as though you’ve just talked yourself into reading it ;-) Enjoy!

  7. Jessica says:

    I knew the plot before I read the book (thanks to a muppet on the tvbookshow) but it didnt actually spoil anything for me and I still really loved it. I think the trailer captures the atmosphere of the book nicely and I cant wait to watch it.

    1. Jackie says:

      SPOLIERS!!!
      Jessica, Oh no! Sorry the TV book show spoiled it a bit for you. I wonder if you’d have enjoyed it even more if you hadn’t known? I thought the atmosphere of the film looked great, but I’m not sure about the fact they are focusing on the love story. I will watch with interest, but my expectations aren’t very high.

      1. Jessica says:

        ah I had watched a different UK trailer (ive put a lin) I think thats much better in terms of how the book was

        EDITED BY JACKIE TO ADD: WARNING SPOILERS IN VIDEO CLIP

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXiRZhDEo8A

        1. Jackie says:

          Jessica, That is the US trailer that I saw packed with spoilers. I’m a bit confused as to which is which – perhaps both trailers are released in both countries?, but I hate the way that trailer gives the entire plot away – not just the ‘secret’. I don’t think there is much point watching the film once you’ve seen it!

  8. sakura says:

    I’m a huge fan of Ishiguro’s but I didn’t like this book as much as some of his earlier ones, especially ‘The Remains of the Day’. It’s partly because the plot of the story didn’t really surprise me as I’d read something similar in a Japanese manga. However, I’m looking forward to seeing the film and reading more of his books:)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, In some ways it is good to know that this is the weakest of his books. I can’t imagine them getting better, but I look forward to seeing if they can!

  9. Care says:

    Oh, I so loved this book and THANK YOU for the UK Trailer. It is much better than the US version!
    I very much agree with your statement “where the power is in what is left unsaid”. My favorite Ishiguro.

    1. Jackie says:

      Care, I was amazed at the difference between the two trailers. I hope that Americans aren’t too disappointed about having the plot spoiled in advance :-(

      1. Care says:

        I know! in fact, I posted a warning post on my blog when I first saw the trailer. “READ THE BOOK FIRST before seeing any movie/trailer interpretation.” I’m so glad I have already read this.

  10. This was one of those books that made me want to re-read it immediately upon finishing. But I didn’t (at the time the book was still brand new and a library loan and then, of course, there are so many fresh books to tempt as you know ::sigh::) although now I’m thinking it would be worth another go before seeing the film. Are you planning to read some of his other works now, having so enjoyed this one?

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint. I read the first few pages again the moment I finished :-) I was amazed at how much we were told in the beginning, but as Ishiguro says it is all about being told before you really understand. So clever!

      I’m planning to read all his other books now, but I don’t like reading books by the same author too close to each other so I imagine it will be at least a year before I get to the next one.

      1. That *is* clever: and it makes you feel like you’re truly in the presence of powerful storycrafting. I hope you enjoy the others of his that you eventually read; it’s time for me to track another one down as well I’d say.

  11. Steph says:

    I am one of the few people who just did not like this book at all. I thought some of the ideas were interesting, but I actually thought it was fairly obvious early on what was going on, so there wasn’t much suspense for me on that front. Additionally, I didn’t like the writing at all – I understand what Ishiguro was going for, and yet I found the prose completely devoid of affect and flat, which meant I didn’t care about any of the characters at all.

    That said, I am interested in seeing the film at some point. It looks gorgeous!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I understand your problem. We were distanced from the characters and that made it feel a bit mechanical in places, but I liked that effect. I didn’t have any empathy with any of the characters, but, unusually for me, I thought that was part of the magic of the book. For me it was all about the bigger picture and the complex issues surrounding the important messages in the book. I can’t believe I’m the person saying that emotion didn’t matter – I’m a changed woman!!

  12. Jenny says:

    I read the end, of course, so I knew what the “secret” was and what was going to happen ultimately. It didn’t spoil the book for me at all – what I admired was the way Ishiguro created the atmosphere of the book. He is damn good at atmosphere. I love him.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Your reading of the ending first always baffles me. I’m pleased it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book for you this time :-)

  13. vivienne says:

    I am hoping to read this one for my first book club meeting. I have been meaning to read it for ages.,

    1. Jackie says:

      Vivienne, I hope that you enjoy it, but either way I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic discussion. Enjoy!

  14. I loved this book and the trailer is looking good – looking forward to the film now.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, Let’s hope the film is almost as good as the book – I think that is the best we can hope for!

  15. Iris says:

    “I have been wanting to read this book for ages, but for some reason it never made it to the top of my reading pile.” Heh, that is exactly what happens to this book for me as well, although it is not on my TBR but on my wishlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, I hope it makes it into your TBR pile and then into your hands soon. I think you’ll love it :-)

  16. Helen says:

    I’ve actually just finished reading this book today and I enjoyed it, though not as much as you did. I’m now trying to write my review and finding it difficult not to give anything away! I’m not sure if I want to see the film, but the trailer does look good.

    1. Jackie says:

      Helen, Trying to avoid the spoilers is very hard. I look forward to seeing what you come up with and comapring notes with you :-)

  17. LizzySiddal says:

    I don’t know if I can watch the movie. The trailer’s enough to make me weep!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lizzy, Oh no! In a good or a bad way?

  18. It’s a fabulous book, delighted that you enjoyed it too, Jackie. He’s such a gifted, understated writer. I’m not sure if I want to see the movie as film adaptations usually disappoint and sometimes enrage me! ;-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, Film adaptations usually disappoint me too :-( I do like a bit of rage though – shows you have a passion for the book ;-)

  19. Alyce says:

    I’m not sure I’m going to see the film because everything is probably so different in my imagination from what will be on the screen.

    I did like the book, but I wish that there would have been more information about the rest of the world that they lived in, as well as how things got to be that way.

    Oh, and when I was reading the book (which I had been so careful not to read reviews or descriptions of to avoid spoilers), I accidentally flipped it open to the Library of Congress cataloging information on the back of the title page and one of the subject headings was a complete spoiler.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, Sorry to hear that you had it spoiled a bit too :-(

      I actually liked the way that the book didn’t develop the outside world any more. I think it allows us to fill in the blanks and have a great discussion about what does/doesn’t happen in the world. Less is more in this case?

  20. Amanda says:

    I agree on the modern classic thing. I didn’t love it this much when I first read it, but it stuck and I STILL haven’t stopped thinking about it, 18 months later. That’s the mark of a good book, I think. I’ve since bought myself a copy and plan to reread it one day.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, I think I will still remember this book in years to come and I agree that the lasting memory of a book is a sign of quality. Sorry to hear that the re-reading wasn’t as good as the first experience, but I hope your next re-read will be more rewarding.

  21. Heidi says:

    Lots of comments but I just wanted to say I read this book last year and it was one of my favorites of the year. The audio is also very well done. I could actually see this being read in schools in the future and studied.

    1. Jackie says:

      Heidi, I think this book will become one studied in schools – I can see it having a special appeal to teenagers so I think they might actually enjoy the experience :-)

  22. She says:

    I can’t remember too much why, but I don’t think I was a 100% fan of this one. I am looking forward to seeing the movie though.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, Oh no! Shame you can’t remember why, but I hope you enjoy the movie :-)

  23. Lydia says:

    You’ve sold me on this one. From what I’ve gleaned from your review, the story isn’t what I expected. It’s been added to the pile.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lydia, Hopefully you didn’t glean too much ;-) I hope that you enjoy it!

  24. Bina says:

    So happy you love this book, too! :) I really like the trailer and the casting for the fim so hopefully I won’t be disappointed.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bina, Most of the casting looks great – I have my fingers crossed that it lives up to my low expectations!

  25. Weird – this isn’t exactly a new book, but I just got a copy of this (same edition as the one pictured) from a friend of a friend! Now I have to read it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, I think the subliminal pre-film release messages have been getting to us! Enjoy!

  26. Elise says:

    I really really loved this book. I read it not long after it came out and hadn’t really heard much about it at the time. I am so excited about the movie, which I also had no idea they were making!! Hopefully it will do the book justice.

    1. Jackie says:

      Elise, It is a special book. I might have to raise my rating to five stars!

  27. I read this book when it first came out (back in 2006?), and enjoyed it. Thought it was fantastic, so I’m pleased that you liked it to. My mother, on the other hand, was horrified that I’d enjoyed this book, and she doesn’t trust my recommendations since, which is kind of annoying!!

    I didn’t realise there was a movie, but hopefully, it’ll be worth a watch!

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, Oh no! Sorry to hear that your mum no longer trusts your recommendations. I hope that you enjoy the movie :-)

  28. mee says:

    I read this book years ago and enjoyed it. I like Ishiguro’s style and look forward to reading more of his books. I knew what was going on from the beginning, possibly getting the “spoiler” somewhere (just the one word: clone), though I don’t think it spoiled it for me. Really want to see the movie. Hopefully soon!

    1. mee says:

      (oops haven’t finished) In fact that one word was the thing that made me want to read it. I probably wouldn’t read it so soon if I didn’t know.

      I also hate how trailers these days give away everything. How dumb are these people? Or how dumb do they think the audience are that we need everything shown upfront?

      1. Jackie says:

        mee, I don’t understand why they’d want to give everything away in the trailers – I don’t like knowing so much in advance. Why watch a film if you’re told in advance what is going to happen :-(

        I see what you mean about knowing about the clones – I guess that might have persuaded me to pick up a book I knew nothing about too :-)

  29. I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, but I actually think I’ll see the film first. I imagine I’ll still enjoy the book if I read it after seeing the film, but I fear I won’t like the film if I’ve read the book. Regardless, I hope to get to both soon!

  30. I completely loved this book. I have read a few of Ishiguro’s other books and they’re good but not nearly as good as this. In my humble opinion.

  31. Ifi says:

    I just ran out this morning to look for this book (not an easy task in the south of Spain!!!) and managed to find it in a second hand bookshop!! Yippie. I´m now so looking forward to what I hope will be a great read.

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