Never Let Me Go (Like, this Book Won’t Let Me Go)

Never Let Me Go was an intense experience for me.

I think it’s a common experience for many, to get so engrossed in a well-written, suspenseful book that you feel the character’s anxiety. I always bit my nails off through an initial Harry Potter reading.  But one book, not out of a mystery, adventure, or crime series? And not just an everyday normal novel, but a mellow one at that. It’s not a beach read or chick-lit – it’s on a whole other plane than that – but Kathy had one of the softest narrative voices I’ve ever read.  The end, while terribly moving, is simple and almost anti-climatic. The reader is not horrendously surprised or ripped from their seat in shock. Still, reading the thing was this intensifying buildup of emotion – and I’m not sure if I’ve recovered entirely.

It wasn’t just sadness or depression, which is quite understandable, and I most definitely experienced. The book revolves around defenseless young clones forced to a pre-planned life of organ donations and certain deaths that cut their lives in thirds. It’s not the sunniest of plots.  No, it was the subtle yet rich streak of despair that ran clearly through the novel that got to me.  It’s there, even in the supposedly innocent beginnings at Hailsham., but ever so slightly, which sets it from typical dystopian works. We haven’t crashed into the blatant horror and corruption of 1984. Instead, Kathy (seemingly) irrelevantly rambles of clubs and cliques and childish fights that we all recall from the elementary years. It lulls us into entertaining boarding school fiction. But then it’s darkened by strange asides that puzzle the reader. Why do they have so many medical examinations? Why are they so severely fenced in? These are the questions that creeped in and made me nervous. This isn’t good, I was thinking. Something bad is going to happen to these nice children.

Still, that’s not too out of the ordinary. I knew this book, coming in, would be of the dystopian-futuristic sort, so it couldn’t be perfect. What struck me as interesting about my reaction is when it turned to true foreboding apprehension. It’s just so miserable, their fixed pathway. When Kathy and her peers and their guardians begin discussing leaving Hailsham, the Next Step, it was terribly reminiscent of leaving high school for college – but in the most crooked way. And then they sit in cold cottages with nothing to do but sleep with each other and pretend to not be holding on to one last hope that their futures are not their futures. I got nervous, then, but actually nervous, not like when you’re waiting to see what’s going to happen on the next page. This book isn’t like that, you know very well they’ll just be sitting, waiting, and talking a bit more.  I got nervous just like you do when you’ve known you’re going to have to do something and go somewhere for awhile. You’ve always known, so you should be comfortable with the idea. But you’ve never settled it with yourself so you’re just in agony. And then the most heart wrenching part of the novel – Kathy and Tommy’s first but final moments together. I could actually feel the clock ticking away. Kathy narrates it so simply.  “Then I came in one day and it was the last time,” (283).

And then I was reminded of something I often dwell on. The last time I visited my grandmother in the hospital, it was a happy moment, her birthday, and we all kissed her goodbye with confidence. A week later we found out the cancer would indeed take her away, so we planned to see her one last time. We didn’t get to. She died quickly. And all I could think was that I was thankful for that. How does one say goodbye to somebody when they know it’s the last time? Death usually rips us apart, shockingly, and it’s horrible, but no one ever thinks of knowingly walking out of a room from someone, never to see them again. This has indeed become my biggest fear, that one day I will face this challenge again. And so reading Kathy and Tommy build to this moment gave me such distress, I wasn’t even really present for the last pages. I still don’t think I’ve stepped out of that book yet.


-Erin A.

~ by eandrews2092 on February 10, 2012.

One Response to “Never Let Me Go (Like, this Book Won’t Let Me Go)”

  1. Your reaction to Never Let Me Go is really interesting to me because I saw the same things that you did in the text–the hopelessness, the intense but repressed emotions, etc–but instead I felt almost angry at the book because the characters never even think of breaking free. The fact that some sort of ill-advised attempt to find freedom is never even considered by anyone is of course powerful; I suppose I simply couldn’t find it in me to forgive them for accepting the paths laid out for them.
    Maybe that’s why I like Gattaca so much more–it’s got the same basic concept (that idea of an inescapable fate), but with a different outcome. Vincent beats the system, he overcomes the odds, but it wouldn’t have happened if he had never tried.
    I just imagined Gattaca as the story of a sad faith-birth child who lives as a janitor, sweeping the halls of Gattaca Corporation while never even trying to be an astronaut, and man, that would be a lame movie! Never Let Me Go has that same aura of entrapment, but even if the clones failed to escape I would have felt that much worse for them. As it is, they’re almost like domesticated animals or something, living quietly within fences until it’s their turn to go to the slaughterhouse. It’s a strange feeling–I feel more separated from the clones because of their actions (or lack thereof) instead of from how they were born.


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