Posted by: chartroose | June 9, 2008

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005, 288 p.

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I would love to meet and get
to know this man.  He’s my
new hero!

(Caution: There are spoilers in this post)

If you are one of the two people who have not yet read this excellent novel, try to get your hands on a copy as soon as possible.  In my humble opinion, Never Let Me Go is one of the best books I’ve read in at least a decade, if not longer.  It has been added to the Chartroose Shortlist of the best novels of the 21st century.  Since it’s only 2008 and I’ll be dead long before the 22nd century arrives, and I’m basically a nobody, this probably doesn’t mean much, but hey, it’s my ego list and I’m sticking to it!  I started out listening to a borrowed audio version and ended up buying a copy to finish reading with my eyes instead of my ears.  This means I was extremely impressed, because I hardly ever buy books!

There are undoubtedly a gazillion reviews of Never Let Me Go floating around the blogosphere, and there are quite a few book bloggers who are better reviewers than I am (like Dorothy, Victoria, Stewart and Verbivore) so I’m going to avoid taking the obvious approach to my review of the novelEarlier today, I did a bit of thinking about the story.  What is Ishiguro really trying to tell us here?  This was no small task, because Never Let Me Go is chock full of symbolism.  It’s so allegorical that I’m sure that I overlooked about 99% of the true meaning, but my OCD was kicking in, so I absolutely had to try to figure it out!

Never Let Me Go is about children being cloned and raised to adulthood for the purpose of donating vital organs to their “originals” when they are fully grown.  After donating several organs, usually two to four, the clones “complete” (die) at around age 30.  Although it’s never stated in the novel, I think they must start out donating organs with a spare, like a kidney or a lung, and then end up donating the biggies that will kill the donor, like hearts and pancreases.

Never Let Me Go may be about clones, but it’s not really about clones at all.  It’s about society—the haves and the have-nots; the way the majority of us regard the underclasses and those less fortunate than we are; the way we objectify everyone and everything that isn’t like us.  Like I mentioned in a previous post, Never Let Me Go is about conformity, and not just the conformity of the clones, but the conformity of everyone.  It’s also about alienation.  The clones weren’t even considered to be human—society thought they didn’t have souls (obviously in order to subconsciously justify the immorality of the entire business).  One of the “guardians” at their idyllic boarding school expressed this opinion by saying that, “…There were times when I’d look down on you from my study window and feel such revulsion…” (p. 269).

On a deeper level, Never Let Me Go is about the futility of life.  It’s a “what’s-the-point” kind of Nihilistic dystopian novel (without the anarchy) that shows that nothing can save us from the inevitable—not love, not art or beauty, not anything.  It’s a Borg book, saying that we might as well allow ourselves to be assimilated because resistance is futile.  The cloned kids don’t rebel against the inevitable, but then, neither do the Borg, do they?  And while, at the very end of our lives, we may “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” with every ounce of strength and determination at our disposal, Death is always the winner.  Always, with no exceptions. 

Now for the neat-o part of this post:

Science first—

  • About 97% of our cloning efforts have ended in failure. Scientists have cloned or attempted to clone sheep, cats, mice, goats, cows, horses, mules, pigs and rabbits. Currently, cloned mice are being used for health research.
  • Scientists in the UK successfully cloned their first human embryo in May of 2005. They are still trying to figure out how to isolate stem cells from clones.
  • Several years ago, a couple of U.S. universities suspended their cloning research due to lack of funding and/or lack of success. Harvard recently regained approval to restart their cloning project. Harvard researchers intend to use clones to harvest stem cells to help combat juvenile diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
  • A Las Vegas based for-profit company called Clonaid has claimed that it has cloned a human baby, but they seem to have nothing to show for it.

My favorite cloning (and related) novels:

This feature length animated film will be released in August:

And, last but not least, humor—

Goodbye, Dolly
Dr. Wilmut cloned a little lamb
In 1997,
Now everyone is saying, “Damn,
Do dead clones go to heaven?
~Chartroose, 2008~

Send In the Clones
You have to be rich
To buy a pair
Of clones to live here on Earth’s ground
‘Cause you don’t have an heir.
Purchase some clones.

Clones bring you bliss.
They help you improve.
They will keep running around
While you’re a bum and don’t move.
Where are the clones?
Buy me some clones!

Just when I start getting bedsores,
Finally knowing that I should be going outdoors;
Clones make an entrance at last, with unusual flair.
Please get in line,
And buy me a pair.

Clones never fart,
And they never drink beer.
Now I know just what I want,
Go buy them, my dear.
Where are the clones?
Go get me some clones,
God, just move your rear!

You have to be rich,
But you don’t have to fear.
‘Cause clones are nice things that don’t taunt,
And they help your career.
Oh, where are the clones?
Go buy me some clones.
Drats, they’re sold out this year!
~Chartroose, 2008~



  1. Somehow I missed this in blog-land. It sounds fascinating. Onto the wishlist!

  2. I like your creativity! Very fun!

    I reviewed this one earlier this year, too, if you’re interested in linking:

    I’ll link your review to mine, too!

  3. I also put this one on me best of the 21st century list! Thanks for a fun review.

  4. Your poem reminds me of the song, “Send in the Clowns, where are the Clowns.” Am I supposed to have that tune in my head?

    Great post – although, I didn’t get that they were specifically for the originals or for the ‘possible’s, but I could have missed that clue, I guess.

    and DO tell me what the silly boat was supposed to represent?! other than an excuse to go find Tommy?

    I just finished this book an hour ago – isn’t that funny? ECXELLENT POST. I’m gonna read some more Einstein before I tackle the Knowles book.

  5. Devourer–Great! Read it soon!

    Lezlie–I’ll be checking out your review in just a second. I hope you like it as well as I did!

    Shannon–Ditto for looking at your post.

    Care–It is wierd that we were reading it at practically the same time. The poem is a parody of “Send In the Clowns.”
    I’m wondering about the possibles and originals question because Kathy H. was the 8th Kathy clone, so she couldn’t possibly be for the original. The boat is weird. It just figured it was there to show that there was no escaping their fate. It wasn’t in working condition, just like they were soon going to be out of commission too. You’re reading Einstein? Good Lord! Let me know how that goes.

  6. So glad you liked this one – it is definitely one of my favorites from this year as well and only my second Ishiguro. I love it when this happens, now I get to seek out all the rest of his work.

  7. Verbivore–I want to read the rest of his works too. This will have to become one of many reading projects for the year.

  8. I could join in on that Ishiguro challenge. I was most impressed, too. I had dreams last night that echoed themes from Never Let Me Go – I think – it’s already starting to fade… What a book that stays with you and makes you keep wondering!

  9. I read this book last year without having heard anything about it beforehand (I picked it up in a hotel gift shop for a flight back from Europe). I can’t begin to explain the impact this book had on me as I gradually began to understand what was happening. I couldn’t put this book down while at the same time the sheer horror of the society Ishiguro depicts had me dreading each new page.
    Ishiguro is obviously brillant and I cannot imagine any “great books” list this century will generate that will not include this book.
    I also highly recommend The Remains of the Day which, while not as horrific as Never Let Me Go, is also very well done.

  10. Care–Let’s do it! Let’s read “The Remains of the Day” and “When We Were Orphans” by the end of the year. I wonder about his other works; I know he’s not a fast writer so there can’t be all that many.

    Karen–I’ve heard “The Remains of the Day” is fantastic. I wonder if Ishiguro is now being taught in college literature courses. He should be. I’m thinking of writing fan mail to him–can you believe that?

  11. You are such a creatively wonderful, wonderfully creative reviewer !! I’ve wanted to read this for a long time but now I am going to go straight to my local library and get it today!! THanks Char!

  12. Thank YOU Lisa!

  13. […] one’s easy. It’s Kazuo Ishiguro, and it’s due to this book: Never Let Me Go. (See my review here). He’s not very prolific, but I’m sure his novels will live on for a long, long time. […]

  14. […] look up to. She let her best friend Ruth stomp all over her as a young girl. She merely accepted her fate as a clone, despite fantasizing about working in an office of all places. She easily fell into a sexual […]

  15. Ha ha ha ha ha. At first your post was quite serious and I was nodding my head, pondering things, pleased at the inclusion of the latest developments in actual attempts at cloning. Then I got to the bottom of your post. “Send in the Clowns” was one of my FAVORITE songs when I was about twelve. I know all the words by heart. So when I read that parody of it I just started laughing out loud. What a great mixture of serious consideration and fantastic humor.

  16. Thanks, Jeane! My mom was a huge Judy Collins fan and palyed that song over and over. I loved it too.

    I’m now heading over to check out your site…

  17. […] Reviews: Jeanne at Dog Ear Diary Chartroose at Bloody Hell it’s a Book Barrage Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)More about […]

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