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Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go Cover

ISBN13: 9781400043392
ISBN10: 1400043395
Condition: Standard
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Author Q & A

Q: What was your starting point for Never Let Me Go?

A: Over the last fifteen years I kept writing pieces of a story about an odd group of “students” in the English countryside. I was never sure who these people were. I just knew they lived in wrecked farmhouses, and though they did a few typically student-like things—argued over books, worked on the occasional essay, fell in and out of love—there was no college campus or teacher anywhere in sight. I knew too that some strange fate hung over these young people, but I didn’t know what. In my study at home, I have a lot of these short pieces, some going back as far as the early ‘90s. I’d wanted to write a novel about my students, but I’d never got any further; I’d always ended up writing some other quite different novel. Then around four years ago I heard a discussion on the radio about advances in biotechnology. I usually tune out when scientific discussions come on, but this time I listened, and the framework around these students of mine finally fell in place. I could see a way of writing a story that was simple, but very fundamental, about the sadness of the human condition.

Q: This novel is set in a recognizable England of the late 20th century. Yet it contains a key dystopian, almost sci-fi dimension you’d normally expect to find in stories set in the future (such as Brave New World). Were you at any point tempted to set it in the future?

A: I was never tempted to set this story in the future. That’s partly a personal thing. I’m not very turned on by futuristic landscapes. Besides, I don’t have the energy to think about what cars or shops or cup-holders would look like in a future civilization. And I didn’t want to write anything that could be mistaken for a “prophecy.” I wanted rather to write a story in which every reader might find an echo of his or her own life.

In any case, I’d always seen the novel taking place in the England of the ‘70s and ‘80s–the England of my youth, I suppose. It’s an England far removed from the butlers-and-Rolls Royce England of, say, The Remains of the Day. I pictured England on an overcast day, flat bare fields, weak sunshine, drab streets, abandoned farms, empty roads. Apart from Kathy’s childhood memories, around which there could be a little sun and vibrancy, I wanted to paint an England with the kind of stark, chilly beauty I associate with certain remote rural areas and half-forgotten seaside towns.

Yes, you could say there’s a “dystopian” or “sci-fi” dimension. But I think of it more as an “alternative history” conceit. It’s more in the line of “What if Hitler had won?” or “What if Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated?” The novel offers a version of Britain that might have existed by the late twentieth century if just one or two things had gone differently on the scientific front.

Q: Kathy, the narrator of this book, isn’t nearly as buttoned-up as some of your previous narrators (such as those of The Remains of the Day or When We Were Orphans) and seems more reliable to the reader. Was this a deliberate departure on your part?

A: One of the dangers you have to guard against as a novelist is repeating things you’re deemed to have done well in the past, just for the security of repeating them. I’ve been praised in the past for my unreliable, self-deceiving, emotionally restrained narrators. You could almost say at one stage that was seen as my trademark. But I have to be careful not to confuse my narrators with my own identity as a writer. It’s so easy, in all walks of life, to get trapped into a corner by things that once earned you praise and esteem.

That’s not to say I won’t one day reprieve my buttoned-up unreliable narrators if that’s what my writing requires. You see, in the past, my narrators were unreliable, not because they were lunatics, but because they were ordinarily self-deceiving. When they looked back over their failed lives, they found it hard to see things in an entirely straight way. Self-deception of that sort is common to most of us, and I really wanted to explore this theme in my earlier books. But Never Let Me Go isn’t concerned with that kind of self-deception. So I needed my narrator to be different. An unreliable narrator here would just have got in the way.

Q: Was it a different experience writing from the female perspective, and also writing in a modern-day vernacular rather than the more formal language of past eras?

A: I didn’t worry much about using a female narrator. My first published novel, A Pale View of Hills, was narrated by a woman too. When I was a young writer, I used narrators who were elderly, who lived in cultures very different from my own. There’s so much imaginative leaping you have to do to inhabit a fictional character anyway, the sex of the character becomes just one of so many things you have to think about–and it’s probably not even one of the more demanding challenges.

As for the more vernacular style, well, she’s someone narrating in contemporary England, so I had to have her talk appropriately. These are technical things, like actors doing accents. The challenge isn’t so much achieving a voice that’s more vernacular, or more formal, it’s getting one that properly presents that narrator’s character. It’s finding a voice that allows a reader to respond to a character not just through what he or she does in the story, but also through how he/she speaks and thinks.

Q: This novel, like most of your others, is told through the filter of memory. Why is memory such a recurring theme in your work?

A: I’ve always liked the texture of memory. I like it that a scene pulled from the narrator’s memory is blurred at the edges, layered with all sorts of emotions, and open to manipulation. You’re not just telling the reader: “this-and-this happened.” You’re also raising questions like: why has she remembered this event just at this point? How does she feel about it? And when she says she can’t remember very precisely what happened, but she’ll tell us anyway, well, how much do we trust her? And so on. I love all these subtle things you can do when you tell a story through someone’s memories.

But I should say I think the role played by memory in Never Let Me Go is rather different to what you find in some of my earlier books. In, say, The Remains of the Day, memory was something to be searched through very warily for those crucial wrong turns, for those sources of regret and remorse. But in this book, Kathy’s memories are more benevolent. They’re principally a source of consolation. As her time runs out, as her world empties one by one of the things she holds dear, what she clings to are her memories of them.

Q: The setting for the first section of this book is a boarding school and you capture well the peer pressure and self-consciousness of being a kid at such a place. Did you draw on your own past for this? Did you have other direct sources, such as your daughter?

A: I never went to boarding school, and my daughter doesn’t go to one now! But of course I drew on my own memories of what it felt like to be a child and an adolescent. And though I don’t study my daughter and her friends, notebook in hand, I suppose it’s inevitable the experience of being a parent would inform the way I portray children.

Having said that, I can’t think of any one scene in that “school” section that’s based, even partly, on an actual event that ever happened to me or anyone I know. When I write about young people, I do much the same as when I write about elderly people, or any other character who’s very different from me in culture and experience. I try my best to think and feel as they would, then see where that takes me. I don’t find that children present any special demands for me as a novelist. They’re just characters, like everyone else.

The school setting, I must add, is appealing because in a way it’s a clear physical manifestation of the way all children are separated off from the adult world, and are drip-fed little pieces of information about the world that awaits them, often with generous doses of deception, kindly meant or otherwise. In other words, it serves as a very good metaphor for childhood in general.

Q: You’ve sometimes written screenplays, including the one for the upcoming Merchant Ivory movie The White Countess. And you’ve had the experience of seeing your novel The Remains of the Day made into a well-known movie. What for you is the relationship between cinema and the novel? Is it fruitful or dangerous for a writer to work in both?

A: I find writing for cinema and writing novels very different. That’s partly because writing novels is my vocation, my full-time job, while I’m a kind of enthusiastic amateur when it comes to screenplays. A key difference is that in cinema the story is told principally through images and music–the words are a kind of supplement. In a novel, words are all you have. But the two forms have many things in common, of course, and I think you can learn much about one from the other.

As you say, I wrote the screenplay to The White Countess, and collaborated on a movie released last year, The Saddest Music In The World. One important attraction of screenwriting for me is that it’s part of a larger collaborative process. There’s something unhealthy about continually writing novels all your life. A novelist doesn’t collaborate the way musicians or theatre people do, and after a while the lack of fresh influences can be dangerous. For me, working on a film, with a director, with actors, maybe other writers, is a good way to keep outside influences coming in.

I’m often asked if I worry that writing screenplays will make my novels more like screenplays. But I’ve found the exact opposite. Looking back, my first novel, A Pale View of Hills, looks to me very close to a screenplay in technique. It moves forward scene by scene with pared-down dialogue, little set descriptions and stage directions. But just after I finished that novel, I wrote two screenplays for British TV’s Channel 4, and that made me acutely conscious of the differences between film writing and novel writing. I became dissatisfied with the idea that I might write a novel that could just as well have been a film. My feeling at the time was that novels wouldn’t survive as a form–wouldn’t be able to compete with TV and cinema–unless they focused on doing things only novels could do. Ever since then, I’ve tried to write books that offer an experience completely different from the sort you might get in front of a cinema or TV screen. You could say I want to write unfilmable novels–though I’ve been keen enough to discuss movie adaptations once I finish a book! But while I’m writing, I want my novel to work uniquely as a novel, and my screenplay to work uniquely as a film.

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Michelle @ The True Book Addict, September 3, 2013 (view all comments by Michelle @ The True Book Addict)

What does it really mean to be human? Are we human only if we were born to other humans, or can we also be considered to be human if we were created in a laboratory from another's DNA. This book confronts this question in a radical way. What if, in the future, clones were created for the sole purpose of saving the lives of the sick, i.e. via organ donation? In Never Let Me Go, the clones are created and educated as "students" in boarding school type institutions. At Hailsham, where much of the story takes place, a certain emphasis is made on the artistic endeavors of these students. What we later find out is that these students are, in fact, clones and when they leave their schools, they will go out into the world first as "Carers", those who take care of the donor clones as they go through their various donations, and then as donors. Upon donation number four, we learn they complete, or die, which basically means that a life giving organ was taken. However, sometimes the donors complete before donation four due to complications which is not surprising. The importance of Hailsham in all of this is that the way they educated the "students" and emphasized their artistic qualities was their way of proving to the world that these children (and later adults) do indeed have souls and so are human. What we learn through Ishiguro's masterful storytelling is that these people are very human...that they do possess souls. Which makes it all the more tragic.

I do have to admit feeling a bit irritated during much of the book. One of the characters (Ruth) is one of those people who would be absolutely exhausting to be friends with. And Kathy is so frustratingly complacent much of the time. I would have gone off on Ruth much more than Kathy, and even Tommy, ever did. I guess that's what made Kathy such an excellent Carer. Her ability to be understanding of other points of view, however frustrating or irritating. But this is just a little glitch in the reading of the book. Ultimately, I feel that each of the characters...Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy...behaved the way they did as their own special way of coping with what they knew was their inevitability. So very sad.

I must examine the moral implications of the idea behind this book. I used to think that cloning would be a good thing. That it would be good to have clones in case we got sick or our loved ones got sick. But when we are thinking such things, do we really consider that these clones are actually people? Even if they are genetic copies, they are made from the same stuff we are. Who says that you have to be born to be given a soul (if you believe in the human soul, as I do)? How do we know how we really get our souls in the first place?

Books that make me really think are my favorites to read. This doesn't change the fact that this book is very sad and I cried and cried at the end. Definitely well worth the read though.
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ReadingNest, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by ReadingNest)
Definitely the most haunting, strange book that I read this past year. I read faster-paced books, happier books, enlightening books, but this is the one that lingered the most, and evoked the most emotions. Good trick for a book that is narrated by such a flat, seemingly detached voice.
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Kristen Ketchel-Bain, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Kristen Ketchel-Bain)
I loved this book with the heat of a thousand suns. It's like reading a watercolor. It is dreamy and indistinct and wonderful, and then all of a sudden, the edges start coming into focus, and what has seemed like a sweet, strange story comes crashing in on you as a truly, truly horrific reality. It is a tale masterfully told, like having someone whisper the story in your ear with a wistful sigh, and soft cotton candy breath. The beauty is not marred by what the reader comes to understand as the book winds to a close.

It's hard for me to adequately describe how much I enjoyed this book. I thought the writing was utter brilliance. It is simple, it is spare, it is gorgeous.

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Product Details

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Knopf Publishing Group
Science fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;dystopia;science fiction;cloning;england;novel;british;clones;organ donation;boarding school;dystopian;coming of age;literature;21st century;speculative fiction;contemporary fiction;friendship;sf;contemporary;love;future;fantasy;literary fiction;e
fiction;dystopia;science fiction;cloning;england;novel;british;clones;organ donation;boarding school;dystopian;coming of age;literature;21st century;speculative fiction;contemporary fiction;friendship;sf;contemporary;love;future;fantasy;ethics;literary fi
fiction;dystopia;science fiction;cloning;england;novel;british;clones;boarding school;organ donation;dystopian;coming of age;literature;21st century;speculative fiction;contemporary fiction;friendship;sf;contemporary;love;future;fantasy;ethics;literary fi
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.70x5.96x1.18 in. 1.10 lbs.

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Never Let Me Go Used Hardcover
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$11.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9781400043392 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Ishiguro takes a meditative look at childhood, loss of innocence, and human deception and the drive for survival. This is a haunting narrative that is joyous and sad at once — reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, but with a very literary and poignant eye for deeper "human" emotion. This book takes its time, but it will surprise you. In the end, it may even change the way you think about the nature of man.

"Review A Day" by , "The beauty in this novel must be carefully distinguished from its power to distress. Ultimately, there is a connection: the depth and quality of the relationships between Kath, Tommy and Ruth certainly accentuate the cruelty of their deaths. From under the shadow of their fate, Ishiguro draws warmly compelling vignettes of love and friendship that cumulatively establish an urgent and engrossing narrative pace." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement)
"Review A Day" by , "Suffice it to say that Ishiguro serves up the saddest, most persuasive science fiction you'll read....With its fantastic, inky bleakness, Never Let Me Go itself mutates the meaning of 'Ishiguroish,' or 'Ishiguroesque,' or whatever epithet sticks to this wonderful writer." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review A Day" by , "Never Let Me Go is a fantasy so mundanely told, so excruciatingly ordinary in transit, its fantastic elements so smothered in the loam of the banal and so deliberately grounded, that the effect is not just of fantasy made credible or lifelike, but of the real invading fantasy, bursting into its eccentricity and claiming it as normal. Given that Ishiguro's new novel is explicitly about cloning, that it is, in effect, a science fiction set in the present day, and that the odds against success in this mode are bullyingly stacked, his success in writing a novel that is at once speculative, experimental, and humanly moving is almost miraculous." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "In this luminous offering, [Ishiguro] nimbly navigates the landscape of emotion — the inevitable link between present and past and the fine line between compassion and cruelty, pleasure and pain."
"Review" by , "Ishiguro's elegant prose and masterly ways with characterization make for a lovely tale of memory, self-understanding, and love."
"Review" by , "Perfect pacing and infinite subtlety.... A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience. Send a copy to the Swedish Academy."
"Synopsis" by , From the acclaimed author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, a moving new novel that subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.

As a child, Kathy-now thirty-one years old-lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed-even comforted-by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailshams nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood-and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance-and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguros finest work.

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