Never Let Me Go

by: Kazuo Ishiguro

Context

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of seven novels, including Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro was born in 1954 in Nagasaki, Japan. In 1960, he moved to England with his parents when his father accepted a research position at the National Institute of Oceanography. The family settled in the county of Surrey, southeast of London, where Ishiguro attended private schools. Ishiguro graduated from the University of Kent in 1978 with a degree in English and philosophy. He began his career as a social worker, but returned to school to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982), developed from the drafts that he produced in his creative writing classes. The novel is a psychologically complex portrait of a middle-aged Japanese widow, living in England and recalling her experiences years earlier as a young woman in post-war Nagasaki. The novel brought Ishiguro a first wave of critical acclaim. It also established his interest in writing first-person narratives, told from the perspective of protagonists who are grappling with their memories of the past.

Ishiguro continued to explore the theme of post-war memory in his second and third novels, both of which offer deeply psychological portraits of their narrators. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), returns to the setting of post-war Nagasaki. The narrator is an aged Japanese painter who grapples with his role as a producer of military propaganda during World War II. The novel was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Ishiguro’s third novel, The Remains of the Day, also takes place in the aftermath of World War II. The novel follows the reflections of an elderly British butler, as he looks back on his life in service. Published in 1989, The Remains of the Day won the Man Booker Prize that same year.

Ishiguro’s psychologically complex works draw on the tradition of the realist novel. He counts such authors as Charlotte Brontë, Anton Chekov, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky among his literary influences. Ishiguro identifies as an international writer. He does not see his work as part of a Japanese literary tradition, and has stated that he is more influenced by Japanese films than literature. Although raised in a Japanese-speaking home, Ishiguro did not return to Japan until he was an adult, visiting briefly in 1989 as part of the Japan Foundation Short-Term Visitors Program.

The narrators in all of Ishiguro’s novels are characteristically unreliable, often omitting key details and restraining their emotions. His fourth and fifth novels, The Unconsoled (1995) and When We Were Orphans (2000), also feature complex narrators dealing with the weight of the past as a classical pianist and a detective, respectively. Yet these novels depart stylistically from his earlier works. Ishiguro experimented with a more surreal style in The Unconsoled, moving away from the realism of his early novels. The Unconsoled was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. When We Were Orphans, meanwhile, takes up the genres of the psychological thriller and the detective novel.

Never Let Me Go is Ishiguro’s sixth novel. Blending psychological realism with science fiction, it takes place in a parallel universe in 1990s England where human cloning is an accepted practice. His first-person narrator is Kathy H., a clone engaged in recalling and reflecting on her memories of the past. Ishiguro began writing Never Let Me Go in 1990, when he referred to it as “The Students’ Novel.” His early notes featured a group of strange students living in the countryside, an image that remained core to the finished novel. He developed the premise of human cloning later in the writing process. Ishiguro initially abandoned the idea, returning to it briefly after writing The Unconsoled. He picked it up in earnest after When We Were Orphans, and published Never Let Me Go in 2005. The novel was met with widespread acclaim, and was shortlisted that year for the Man Booker Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also shortlisted in 2006 for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, given each year to the best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom. A film adaptation directed by Mark Romanek followed in 2010. Ishiguro’s most recent novel, The Buried Giant, was published in 2015. A quest narrative set in a mythic sixth or seventh century England, The Buried Giant blends the genres of fantasy and historical fiction. Ishiguro is also the author of several screenplays and short stories. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.