August's Pick 2006

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The story of a private boarding school set against the pastoral beauty of the English countryside is narrated in the late 1990s by one of its alumni. Thirty-one-year-old Kathy H. describes her privileged, if sheltered, life at Hailsham and gives no immediate indication of the sinister forces at play beneath the idyllic surface. Slowly, though, the reader notices that no parents ever visit, that the teachers are called “guardians” and that Kathy, her close friends, Ruth and Tommy, and all the other students have been groomed for futures of sacrifice to others as “carers” and later as the cared-for. By the time that the true nature of Kathy’s world becomes clear, it is also obvious that Ishiguro is less interested in the mystery or shock value inherent in this plot than in the way these former Hailsham grads make sense of their lives and individuality in a sadly shortened time frame. Like the characters in many of his other novels, the narrator’s memories are conveyed in a restrained, even distorted, way, reflecting her own limitations and those of the other students who were both “told and not told” about the strange fate awaiting them.

For On the Same Page the Library has purchased the 2006 paperback edition of Never Let Me Go, published by Vintage Books. It is also available at the Library in large print and as an unabridged audio book.

About the Author

Born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954, Kazuo Ishiguro moved to Guildford, England in 1960 for his father’s research job at the National Institute of Oceanography. The move was expected to be temporary, so Japanese instruction was provided at home, augmenting his British education at a state primary school. He then won admission to a traditional grammar school (where he glimpsed the last traces of a certain type of British society and honed his creative skills in songwriting and writing spy stories).

Upon graduation, he took a year off to travel to America and also had a stint as a grouse-beater at Balmoral for the Queen Mother. He went on to study English and philosophy at the University of Kent, Canterbury, followed by a Masters program in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Interspersed with his studies, Ishiguro worked as a community resettlement worker in Glasgow and, after graduation, as a residential social worker in London.

In 1981, three of his short stories were included in Introductions 7: Stories by New Writers. He became a full-time writer in 1982 after his first novel, A Pale View of Hills (about a Japanese widow in England recalling post-war Nagasaki), was published and won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Ishiguro was nominated as one of the 20 “Best of Young British Writers” by Granta magazine in 1983 (the same year he became a British citizen) and landed on the list again a decade later. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986) dealt with Japanese attitudes to the WW II as reflected through the haunted mind of a former artist. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

Ishiguro's third novel, The Remains of the Day (1989) captured the Booker Prize for Fiction and was made into an award-winning film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Set in post-war England, it conveys the belated awakening of a butler to the Fascist sympathies of his employer and the costs of a life spent in service. The Unconsoled (1995), about a concert pianist in an unnamed European city, garnered the Cheltenham Prize, but was initially savaged before a positive, but belated, critical reappraisal. When We Were Orphans (2000), about a detective investigating his parents’ disappearance 20 years earlier, was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Novel Award and the Booker Prize for Fiction. His latest work, Never Let Me Go, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and won the American Library Association’s Alex Award for young adults. Ishiguro wrote the screenplays for The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and for the 2005 James Ivory film, The White Countess.

Awards

Awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1995 for services to literature, Ishiguro is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1998. His work has been translated into over 30 languages. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Of Related Interest

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