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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Happy April 1st, everyone! Today wraps up the second month of Reading Buddies. Looking ahead to April, I’ll be reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Feel free to read along!

I want to start out today’s wrap-up post on Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro by considering Kathy, the novel’s narrator. (As usual with these Reading Buddies posts, spoilers are fair game, so read at your own risk!) In the comments of my previous post on Never Let Me Go, there was some interesting discussion about Kathy. It really started me thinking about Kathy and the impact her narrative style has on the book; without her, or with a different first-person narrator, I think the book would have been drastically different.

It’s obvious Kathy omits details as she’s telling her story, yet I never got the sense that she was deliberately lying. Jenners pointed out that “it was like the author was having you write your own story about this society on your own because you get the details from Kathy in such a fragmented and matter of fact way.” I think that’s part of what makes the book so effective; you can’t tell what’s really going on, so you have to keep trying to figure it out. Yet Kathy tells us she’s writing down these thoughts long after the events in the story have occurred, so she could have filled in the gaps for us using the knowledge she’d gained. Why didn’t she?

My explanation was that she’s telling the story like it happened for her. The pieces she leaves out or alludes to in passing during the earlier chapters are left vague because that’s how they were for her. She’s relating her reality to us, as she recalls it being at the time each event takes place. The holes in her narrative reflect the holes in her knowledge at each point in her life. It’s possible she’s doing this deliberately. It may also be that she doesn’t realize she’s leaving these things out, that she’s just recalling what happened within the context of her own reality. It’s not clear that she ever did fully learn what “normal” people’s lives were like, and so it may be that she sometimes doesn’t explain herself because if she were talking to someone with her same background, she wouldn’t have needed to do so.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (cover)Anita had a slightly different take, and one that I also like. She says of Kathy that “there’s a sense in which she’s holding back on what she is saying — not so much because she’s trying to mislead or anything, but more because she’s trying to resist coming to terms with the emotional impact of her situation.” Could it be that there are some things too painful for Kathy to recall, or that she isn’t ready to face yet? Perhaps she prefers to preserve the innocence of her youth by leaving the difficult issues for later in the story. What’s your take? How do you feel Kathy’s narration shaped and affected the novel?

I’ve struggled to put into words how I felt when I finished the last page of Never Let Me Go and closed the book. It doesn’t seem to be a single emotion, but a slippery combination that I can’t capture. There were bits of sorrow, heartbreak, and shock, certainly, but there was also sympathy, respect, awe, and a lot of other things.

There were a couple of things that hit me hard. First was the relationship between Kathy and Tommy and watching it in its final moments. Second was the realization that carer to donor is a progression as well as a relationship. I’d spent most of the book assuming there were carers and donors, two separate roles filled by separate individuals. When, in the beginning, Kathy talks about how she’s almost fulfilled her carer duties, I assumed she’d be retiring, sort of, moving on to something else. Realizing Kathy would follow Ruth and Tommy, that ultimately their fate was hers as well, completely changed the way I felt about her story. I’d always felt Kathy was sort of an outsider, somehow exempt from the paths taken by the donors in her safe, special carer role. But Never Let Me Go is as much a way for her to be remembered as it is a tribute to Ruth and Tommy and the others.

I think one of the most interesting and also heartbreaking parts of Never Let Me Go was the scene where Kathy and Tommy visited Miss Emily. Interesting, because of how many mysterious things were examined and explained; heartbreaking, because not only could Miss Emily not offer the magical extension, but the conversation essentially destroyed all the history and mythology the Hailsham kids had created for themselves. It stripped them down to their original purpose, all visions of a special or even normal life evaporated. It drastically shifted the tone and direction of the book for me.

Whew. I could keep going! I found Never Let Me Go to be wonderful to read but also wonderful to think about, and it affected me intellectually as well as emotionally. I’m thus far quite impressed with Ishiguro, and I’m glad I have The Remains of the Day waiting for me on my bookshelf. I won’t get to it soon, probably, but if you’re up for another Ishiguro further down the line, let me know and I’ll be in touch.

Other Reading Buddies’ thoughts on Never Let Me Go:

And of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    My husband and I read this book aloud together last year, and there was so much to discuss when it was over that we made a special date at a restaurant and discussed it over lunch. We also just watched the movie version a couple of days ago, and though it felt short, it was really very good, and was albe to capture the emotion, tension and ambiguity of the book beautifully. I enjoyed this book a lot and am hoping to read The Remains of the Day soon. Great review on this one!

    • Erin

      I love that you and your husband had a date to discuss this book! What a great idea! There’s certainly enough to talk about in it. I may see the movie; we’ll see. I’m definitely hoping to read The Remains of the Day, too!

  • http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com Amanda

    I pretty much already said what I could say in the comments of the first post, but I just wanted to say here that sometime this year I’ll be reading Remains of the Day. So far I’m 1 for 2 on Ishiguro (I *hated* The Unconsoled), so I’m hoping Remains will be another WIN.

    • Erin

      If you give me a heads up, I’ll read it around the same time! Either way, I’ll look forward to your thoughts. It sounds like people who liked Never Let Me Go have liked The Remains of the Day, too. I have The Unconsoled on my shelf, but I’ll be reading The Remains of the Day next.

  • http://alitareads.wordpress.com Alita

    Although I didn’t mention it in my review, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question brought up in Kathy & Tommy’s meeting with Miss Emily. Which was better, a carefree childhood or growing up with the full knowledge of their purpose? I don’t know if I can come up with an answer.

    I don’t think that Kathy purposely left out information. It seem that she assumed the reader knew of the world she lived in, so it would have been pointless to include some of those details. A few times, especially near the beginning, she said things along the lines of “I don’t know about how it was where you were, but for us” or “you probably had something similar where you were.” It’s like the reader was intended to be in a similar position she was in.

    I also thought that Kathy was somehow except from being a donor. During the flashbacks to her school days I kept looking for signs that would point out how and why she was different from the other students. It was heartbreaking to slowly learn that her ‘retirement’ from being a carer meant she moved on to becoming a donor.

    There’s so much to talk about! I’m definitely interested in reading more of Ishiguro’s stuff now.

    • Erin

      I’m not sure which is better, either. To know the truth, or to live out your life believing a happier lie?

      It was those comments you cited that made me think Kathy wasn’t omitting information on purpose. It seemed like she was assuming a common background with the reader.

      And yes, I kept trying to figure out how she was different, too! Oh, I hated realizing retirement for her meant becoming a donor.

      It seems we had similar reactions to this one. Thanks for reading it with me! I’m definitely looking forward to more Ishiguro, too.

  • http://www.eclectic-eccentric.com Trisha

    I’m sad I couldn’t get in on this one. I thought I owned it but my brain was obviously confused. :) I do hope to read The Corrections this month, and possibly The Knife of Never Letting Go as a re-read since I just bought – finally – the last in the series.

    • Erin

      It happens! I hope you get to read it at some point, and I’ll look forward to your thoughts when you do. Glad to have you along for the April reads!

  • http://perduedansleslivres.blogspot.com virginie

    There was so much sadness in this book. I guess Kathy got to understand very soon how her life would go. In a sense, she was luckier than her friends, as she had an exceptionally long career as a “carer”.

    • Erin

      That’s true, Kathy knew how her life would go. She probably assumed we knew, too, which is why she didn’t tell us earlier. The sadness just kept building with every new piece of the puzzle we got. I wonder if it might have been harder to be a carer for so long, watching people you cared about “complete” before you? I don’t know.

  • http://Www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this…and I’m looking forward to reading with you this month. As far as this book, I remember thinking it would have been so different if it had been written from a motor straightforward point of view.

    • Erin

      Yes, the narrator made a huge difference! I’m looking forward to reading with you this month, too :-)