"Never Let Me Go" … by the author of "The Remains of the Day"

The less you read about this novel before you actually read the novel … the better.

I’ll avoid spoilers here and just say this:

I remember when I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, I thought, “There’s a great horror story waiting to be told about a community cut off from the modern world … and this isn’t it.”

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, on the other hand, is it!

I just finished reading it, and it’s a suspenseful narrative about an isolated community of young people who are puzzled by their isolation, by the way their instructors treat them, and by their own developing sexuality. For a long time, I didn’t really understand what was going on, why they were isolated, what exactly made them special. (You may pick it up sooner than I.) But as the truth began to reveal itself, I found myself increasingly troubled and intrigued. The language is so gentle, so quiet, so mellow, and the events seem like simple everyday interaction. Yet, you just can’t shake that sense that there is a big monster in the closet that no one is talking about. Soon, it will rear its ugly head.

The greatness of Ishiguro’s work here is that he never indulges in cheap sci-fi sensationalism. He grounds his story in everyday human behavior. That’s what makes the horror of the premise hit home. This could happen in our world. And things like it already do happen. We need this story. Now.

If Danny Boyle makes a film out of it, and he says he’s going to … I hope he shows the same restraint Ishiguro does. This could be our first sci-fi/poetry film since, what, Tarkovsky’s Solaris? 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Ishiguro, who wrote The Remains of the Day, is a master of portraying repression, the way that manners mask emotion, and the longings that we bury until they manifest themselves in frightening ways. Never Let Me Go is, in one sense, a slow moving story of manners, relationships, and coming of age. But on a deeper level, it’s a science fiction/horror story/mystery par excellence, reminding us of such provocative films as Gattaca and even Blade Runner, asking what will happen when humankind’s desire to play God goes too far. In these days of hot debates over science and ethics, we need stories like this one.

Highly recommended.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Bar Bar A

    I just posted a minute ago before I realized you live in Seattle – you’ve probably been to the Damah Film Festival! Please tell me what you thought and if you’ve never heard of it check it out. Do you know Sky D.? Spencer B? Isaac A?

  • Chris Durnell

    Slate Online ruined it for me, but I’m picking it up anyway. Loved Remains of the Day, but I haven’t picked up his other works because their descriptions didn’t interest me.

  • Adam Walter

    I’ll second your warning about coming to the book without any previous knowledge about the plot. I’m just starting it, but Amazon.com’s “editorial review” spoiled one of the big surprises for me.

    I’ve only read one Ishiguro book so far, his first: A Pale View of Hills. I recommend it to anyone who likes David Lynch films, particularly Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive. While the novel’s content is less extreme than those films, it does a similar number on your brain and has an unreliable narrator who is a monstrous liar! From what I’ve seen so far, Ishiguro is a very strong storyteller who exercises a delicate control of his prose.

    BTW, while I liked The Village well enough, that great story about an isolated community may also be found in the book Shyamalan ripped off. He pretty obviously stole the basic story from a young adult novel–Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running out of Time (1995).


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