Updated: April 3, 2011 14:25 IST

Unpredictable yet compelling

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigiro. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigiro. Photo: Special Arrangement

A flawless work that eludes even the most minor of criticism either in its form, structure or story telling

The dazzling brilliance of Kazuo Ishiguro has illuminated the literary firmament for nearly three decades now. His six published novels have won critical praise and prestigious literary awards besides being translated into 40 languages. Some of them have also been adapted into films and brought more fame and glory to the auteur writer. Never Let Me Go is his sixth novel that was written in 2005 and found a place in bestselling lists across the world, besides earning well-deserved praise from critics. The work is now available in a paperback version brought out by Faber & Faber.


It wouldn't be wrong to hail the work as a modern classic. Suffused with tenderness, the novel manages to make us feel and care for characters that are not quite human. Ishiguro is a master of understatement. Nothing about the novel is flamboyant. A rather pithy work neatly divided into three segments, it tells the story of three friends who grow up in the same boarding school and are drawn into a romantic triangle. Lurking in the background is the grim shadow of the larger purpose for which they inhabit this world. Their destinies are predetermined and yet the three of them are unable to get past the traps of love and betrayal life has set for them. While they yearn and dream for a future that can never be theirs, for the rest of the world, they are figures of revulsion, to be avoided at any cost. This not only sets the context for the intimate and ultimately tragic relationships they build with each other, but also provides a commentary on the human society that will stop at nothing in the name of scientific progress.

Ishiguro is particularly effective when he is sketching scenes of great sorrow. His keen eye and sensitive writing leaves the reader with no choice but to become a part of the Hailsham world where the children grow up with guardians and not parents and seek meaning in the tiny objects they create for what they believe to be for the world that awaits them when they turn 16. Such a premise can easily turn maudlin and sentimental but Ishiguro avoids this pitfall with consummate ease. So gentle is his narrative that you end up feeling not just for the victims but also those whose work it is to prepare them for the horrors that await them at the end of their education.

Flawless work

To find a label for such a work is not easy. Broadly the work can be categorised as science fiction but the evocative story telling and the underlying pathos of the three main characters - Ruth, Tommy and the narrator Kathy - is such that it eludes any easy cubby holing. The easiest approximation the reader can arrive at is that it is a work of great literary merit at par with some of the immortal works of J.M. Coetzee and Margaret Atwood.

The two novels Ishiguro wrote before Never Let Me Go came in for a fair amount of flak from critics. Perhaps the unfair criticism drove the writer to come up with a work that is as unpredictable as it is compelling. It is as if the master is daring his opponents by creating a flawless work that eludes even the most minor of criticism either in its form, structure or story telling.

You shouldn't be content with just reading Never Let Me Go. It is a book that is meant to be owned and passed from one generation to another.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber & Faber, £7.99.

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