Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never let me go is set in the early 1990’s and is a quietly disturbing novel which aims to make us question the ethics of science without ever directly raising the topic.
The narrator of Never Let Me Go is Kathy H., a woman who introduces herself as a “carer” months away from becoming a “donor,” as though we should know what these terms mean. This nearness to ending one stage of her life to entering another causes her to reminisce about Hailsham, the school in the English countryside where she grew up with her two closest friends, Tommy D. and Ruth. The three form an unlikely trio: Ruth is headstrong and imaginative; Tommy has an uncontrollable temper; and Kathy is steady and observant in the subtleties of human behavior. It is this last quality belonging to Kathy H. that sets the tone of the novel. Everything is precisely told in a down to earth voice that never questions the strange terminology and conversations that alert the reader to something more grave lurking under what seems, on the surface, to be an ordinary story about three childhood friends. As the three grow up, they begin to face moments more important than the minor disagreements of childhood.
Ishiguro’s richly textured description of the relationship among the three supplies all the details without confronting the larger issues. As Kathy tells us, the guardians at Hailsham both tell and not tell the students the truth about Hailsham and their lives-exactly what Ishiguro does to the reader. The truth is doled out in steady increments, over the course of the entire novel, requiring the reader to understand what is implied as much as what is told. The frightening side to all this is that the characters never question the course of their lives. No one runs, or questions why they are the ones to make the ultimate sacrifice. One of the most poignant moments comes near the end when Kathy says, “Why should we not have souls?” By this point, it has been apparent to the reader that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are human in every sense of the word, with talents and intelligence and faults and complex emotions, and yet are regarded as both freaks and disposables by the “normals.” For the reader, these characters are anything but expendable.
Enter this alternate world where the past is also the future.