Never Let Me Go is a novel set in an alternate yet highly similar and believable version of England, in the late 1990s. We follow Kathy, now 31, as she tells the story of her seemingly idyllic childhood in Hailsham School up until present day. We learn throughout the novel strange things about the school; the persistence in making the children express themselves creatively, the importance of keeping them healthy and the detached nature of the school from the rest of society. As the novel progresses we slowly learn the truth of what awaits the children in the outside world. This novel is dark and poignant, and raises extremely relevant and important questions about what it is to be human.
I found the narrative of the novel to be captivating and enjoyable to read. You get the sense throughout that Kathy is really recalling and telling us about her childhood as she remembers it. Memories that she explains lead her to remember other memories, and because of this the narrative skips around in time, giving it a fluid and highly believable feel. Because the narrative was so believable, and Kathy’s childhood was what I know to be normal in many ways, this also made the novel creepier when aspects that were different to real life were mentioned in a nonchalant way. The novel was similar but eerily dissimilar at the same time, and I could totally envisage this fictional reality becoming our reality.
Throughout the novel the hints of unexplained things – involving the school and the ‘guardians’ there, and the children and their purpose in the outside world – managed to build up the suspense throughout relatively well. I was constantly asking questions, and was eager to understand the world’s system and where all the characters fitted in. I do think the suspense was dragged out for too long however, and thus the pace slowed down for me slightly, around halfway through. When the reality was fully explained it felt too close to the end of the book; I would have preferred more of the book to have been explaining the overall system in more detail, and to have been exploring the societal and ethical implications of it.
Overall, the novel’s strength definitely lay in its disturbing and believable picture of society, and the questions this raised. I was not overly invested in the characters and their journeys; I did not particularly like Kathy and her friends while they were younger, and I did not sense much character development as they got older. The societal system was much more intriguing to me, and while I wish there had been more discussion of the issues surrounding it, I hugely enjoyed how much this novel made me think about humanness, science and love.