Monday, May 7, 2012

Audiobook Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Publisher: Books on Tape
Duration: 9 hours, 41 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
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 Hailsham’s 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.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Do not read this book if you want something happy. This is a sad, depressing story. But, it is worth it. It is moving, heartbreaking, and completely terrifying. Never Let Me Go is incredibly well-written; at some points, there is really beautiful language. And getting to know these characters and the life that is forced upon them is an enjoyable experience, even though their lives have a particular unpleasantness to them.

I do have some complaints, but I did like Never Let Me Go. I thought it was a thoughtful look at a futuristic society. Unlike many dystopian novels, there is no apocalypse or impending doom. There isn't even a sense of danger or uneasiness. Life is different, but people have accepted it (even those who have the short end of the stick). It goes on. I really liked that quality, because I feel like it's more realistic. And it gives this story an edge. The reader's sense of uneasiness and frustration is heightened because the characters don't rail about the unfairness of their lives.

However, one thing that disappointed me was that the description doesn't really describe the book. The summary I've listed was the summary I read before reading it, and it doesn't fit. It makes it seem like there would be a startling revelation the characters come across -- some great, hidden secret that will change their lives forever. There is a secret, but I don't think it's all that big, especially considering everything else they have to deal with. In any case, I didn't feel like it really changed the characters in the way the summary implies it does.

And that is another thing that bothered me. There is no twist. Life is laid out for them, and while they're not told the entire truth and the things they are told are done in a subtle way so they learn to accept their lives at an early age, there is nothing very surprising about this book. In a sense, this is the book's downfall; however, I don't see how it can be any other way and achieve the horrifying quality it does. These people accept the circumstances of their lives. No fighting, not much in the way of complaining, just acceptance.

I probably would have liked it more had I not listened to it as an audiobook. Rosalyn Landor is magnificent and her narration fits the tone of the story. Her voices for each character were also fantastic -- once or twice I wondered if there was another person for some of the dialogue. However, the quiet, calm tone of the story didn't keep my interest for very long. The only thing that kept me going was wanting to know more about the characters and their story, so that was a good job on Ishiguro's part.

I love a book that makes me think and forces me to delve deeper into the story, and that's exactly what Never Let Me Go does. On the surface, it's very straightforward, but it gives a lot of material to think about. It'll be great for discussion material either in a book club or in a classroom.

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