Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (263 pages, 2005, Faber and Faber)
Never Let Me Go is the first novel I have read by Kazuo Ishiguro.   Ishiguro is of Japanese descent.   He and his family moved to England when he was six (so his father could work in the oil fields of in the North Sea).   The  Times placed Ishiguro on their list of fifty best British Writers since 1945.  
Never Let Me Go was short listed for the Booker Price and the Arthur C Clarke Prize (best Science Fiction book) .   It is a dystopic novel set in England in the 1990s.     To reveal much of anything of the plot line would be a spoiler.   It is largely set in a very special kind of a boarding school.   It centers around the lives of three of the students and is narrated by one of the students, Kathy.   Ishiguro spends a lot of time building up suspense in the book.    When we do find out what is behind the special school it is interesting enough a revelation but hardly seems worth the long build up.   Maybe part of the point of the book is that the characters lead very bland boring lives but we are not made to care about them and their fate.  I accept that perhaps this is part of the point of the novel that no one cares about the children in the special school but if the reader does not care about the characters it some times is a bit of a push to enjoy the novel.
I found the prose to be a bit  bland and near boring.   One can write about people with bland boring lives without being bland and boring.   I admit maybe the very lush and gorgeous prose I have read in the last six weeks in the works of Jean Rhys, Charlotte Bronte, and Salman Rushdie  has affected by views on the prose style of Ishiguro.  It is easy to read, lots of people love it and I am glad I read it as it does provide an interesting alternative vision of England in the 1990s.    I think it would make a good book to read on a long plane trip.   I think in fairness my negative attitude toward this book may somehow be caused by the extreme high quality of the other books I have read so far this year.   Of the 18 novels I have read so far this year, I would rank it maybe 15th best.   This does not mean it is not worth reading.   I took a quick look at the ratings of this book and most readers gave it four stars.   I gave it three.   Most reviewers liked it more than I did.    I do think my take on him is influenced by the very great books I have recently read.    Some would think this makes my comments on him unfair.   Latter on I will give him a second read.   I did not really dislike this book and my ttaste does run to lush prose.   I was curious about Ishiguro as I see his works in the book stores here in Manila and now my curosity is satisfied.

I got this book in a book trade with a fellow Manila based book blogger.   If anyone wants to work out a book trade please contact me.

I am including this book in my reading for these challenges

POC Challenge
New Authors Challenge (means new to the reader)
Fantasy Challenge
Speculative Fiction Challenge


Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Good review. I've read quite a number of Ishiguro books and this isn't his best though the premise is interesting. The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans and the Unconsoled are his best ones.

Harvee said...

Sorry you didn't like it. I read and liked When We Were Orphans, and skimmed through The Unconsoled, a very long book. His writing is good but as you said, it can get bland, since he often writes about bland characters. He really gets inside his character's minds and portrays them to us as flawed individuals.

claire said...

Mel, I hope you don't stop reading Ishiguro. This is the one I liked least of all his books. I have not read When We Were Orphans and An Artist of the Floating World yet (soon), but have read the rest, and they are all better than Never Let Me Go. I did assume, like you, that this book was written in this too-simplistic style because that's what the character Kathy called for. Try The Remains of the Day; beautiful. The Unconsoled is challenging but brilliant.

Suko said...

I will skip this one, because of your honest review, and because I have other Japanese literature already in my reading queue. But I may well read a different work by Ishiguro.

Bookphilia said...

I also didn't think much of this book, and for all the reasons you discuss here. Also, I guessed on the first page, arrggg!, what the "surprise" was and so really got nothing out of it. Oh well.

The Remains of the Day is really a very good book, if somewhat derivative of Howard's End.

Danielle Zappavigna said...

i read your review with interest, i had read remains of the day which i LOVED and couldn't wait to read never let me go. like you i found it very bland, and found i was quite disapointed in it. reading the other comments i might try some of his others.

Anonymous said...

I read this with all the other books short listed for the Booker that year and it was my least favourtite, it also left me feeling rather depressed, I needed something light afterwards. I know many people love it, so to read that you had reservations makes me feel better.

JoV said...

I don't think it's because you have read books with rich prose before you come to read this book, and the reason you rate it poorly.

I felt the same way too, see my review:

Last week I finished his recent book "Nocturnes" and came out feeling the same way as "Never Let Me Go", not sure how much of Ishiguro I can take!

So you are not alone in this.

JoAnn said...

I listened to this a couple of years ago. The reader's voice provided an almost dream-like feel that enhanced the novel. It was far from a favorite, but I liked it more than When We Were Orphans (which I read).

Mel u said...

Mrs B-my next work by Ishiguro will be Unconsoled-

Harvee-I am going to give him a second read

Colleen-I am glad you shared my opinion of the book as I feared somehow I was not being fair-

Mel u said...

Mummazappa-I am glad you also found the book bland

Bookpusher-I am glad you also found it bland as I did see lots of 4 and 5 star posts on so I thought Maybe I was being to harsh

Jovenus-I own one more of his books, The Unconsolded-I will try it

Joann-thanks you as always for visiting my blog-

Stefanie said...

Too bad you didn't enjoy the book. I really liked it. I found it terribly sad that when they found out what was so special about them they just accepted it.

Mel u said...

Stefanie-I will try another of his works-it was a sad book

Arti said...

I read the book first, and then watched the movie. After that, I reread the book and enjoyed it much more than the second time around. I've read every book by Ishiguro except his first A Pale View of Hills. I'd put this together with The Remains of the Day as my favorites.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

I've come back to your review via the rippleeffects blog. Its interesting to read a past comment of mine. This book will be read by my book club in November so I had to revisit my feelings for it. I recently discussed it with a friend via SMS which u can read about here:
And via this conversation I've changed my view of it completely. It is actually a brilliant book. The fact that the characters were without charm was exactly the point. In spite of it all you just want the best for them and this is where Ishiguro excels.