It’s natural for a child to assume that his or her own childhood is unremarkable. That’s one reason it takes Kathy, the narrator of Never Let Me Go, so long to twig that the very exclusive English boarding school she attends with her friends Ruth and Tommy is not quite ordinary. No responsible reviewer would reveal the exact nature of the horror that lurks there, but suffice to say that it’s thoroughly horrific. Ishiguro’s readers see the looming shadows before Kathy does, but by then it is far too late. It has always been too late for Kathy. She tells her story with a dry-eyed, almost plodding matter-of-factness that only makes her plight that much more plausible — her lack of artistry is a tribute to Ishiguro’s consummate artistry. As they grow up, the students at her school long for even the most basic trappings of a normal life — Ruth fantasizes about one day working in an office — but fantasies are all they will ever have. Set in a darkling mirror-England, Never Let Me Go is a work of science-fiction horror with a tragic payoff as devastating as anything in modern literature. It could easily be mistaken for a work of bioethics, or a genre thriller, but it’s more than either of these: Never Let Me Go is an existential waltz, set to the music of hopelessness, about ordinary people trying to wring some joy out of life before it ends, and trying not to flinch as the axe falls.
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