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"Never Let Me Go" is a 2005 novel by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It is set in the 1990s in Great Britain, and concerns the reminisces of a woman who attended an elite boarding school, and how the relationships she begin there still affect her adult life.

This is also a book that is hard to write about without giving spoilers. I was lucky to not know the genre of the book going in, and I would urge readers to read the book first, before reading any reviews of it. Even such information as the main character's names give information about what track the book is going to take.

So instead I will write a little bit about what novels are like in general, and why "Never Let Me Go" is such a rare book. A novel, like any sort of story, has to have some sort of plot. The plot is caused by the characters having some sort of conflict. And what type of conflict this is determines what type of book you are reading. In a genre novel, whether it be a western, mystery or space opera, the conflict centers around external action and external goals that the reader is well-aware of. The characters reach closure by solving a crime, or exploring a planet. We usually know what is going to happen, and the author's skill is in telling the story well. In what is called "literary" fiction, the novel deals with characters in realistic settings. Their closure usually comes by reaching an internal comprehension about a state of affairs that is not, objectively speaking, that thrilling. They realize that even though their father will never be proud of them, they are proud of their career as an accountant. A subvariant of this is the social or political tract: the character becomes aware of social or political inequality, and either does something about it or at least learns that compassion, empathy and tolerance are good values. Third, we have experimental fiction, where the plot is secondary to how the writer tells the story, and where the very nature and purpose of fiction can be called into question.

The thing about all three of these basic types of novel is that they have all been done before, and to make it worthwhile, you have to either come up with a surprising twist, or just come up with a way to make the old tropes interesting, at least for a moment. It wasn't the Butler that did it: it was his identical twin, trying to frame him.

Why I went into this digression about the types of literature is that every once in a while, an author manages to write a book that is (if you pardon the pun) novel: a book where the characters and plot don't fit into any of the usual categories, or perhaps transcends them. This book is a mixture of literary fiction (in that it describes the life of a "normal person" whose major conflict is coming to terms with the contemporary world), genre fiction (in that it does incorporate some familiar tropes from different genres) and experimental fiction (although not wildly so, the book uses shifting and distorted perspectives to evoke a mood). It is, in short, an original book, and only a few of those come out a decade. There are many good books, fewer great ones, but an original book is sui generis. Because this book is unique, it should be on everyone's reading list.


Novel
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage
Date of publication: March 14, 2006
ISBN-10: 1400078776

Novel set in British countryside in an imaginary future. It is a quiet and calm description of a woman's recollections of her youth at a private boarding school. It is also, somewhat intentionally, a parable on bioethics. The dialogue is sparse and the story moves along at a very slow pace, as the reader is listening to a woman who is trying to recall details although her memory is clearly imperfect and her understanding of the events even less clear.

The author presents the entire experience in a detached, overly formal way, as if he is taking pains not to offend anyone or indicate a judgmental tone. The effect is a spooky, somewhat surreal experience as the reader is "let in" on the true purpose of the school and the students long before the narrator gives us the explanation.

I think it is an interesting book, because of the contrast between the tone of the narrator (calm and polite) and the subject matter (dark and hinting at sinister intent). It reminded me of songs that have light and airy music that accompany evil or dangerous lyrics.

Any symbolism about the fragility of existence and the hyper kinetic narcissism of adolescence is likely intended.

Coming soon to a big screen near you.

details from Amazon.com

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