I am going to try to avoid giving any spoilers in this review. It is hard because it is difficult not to talk about the ethics that underlie this book while avoiding giving away the major plot point that drives the book’s events and the characters that populate this world.
The story centres on Cathy H, told from the perspective of her as a woman in her 30s. It reads rather like a memoir or a diary, written in a manner not that of a professional writer. Cathy jumps around a lot. I’m talking things like: “oh, that reminds me of something that happened to me when I was 15 but I will come to that in a moment rather than breaking my train of thought”. This adds a real element of authenticity as she processes the events of her life.
Cathy tells us of growing up in a special, seemingly elite boarding school. They are not permitted to leave the grounds and they have a strange barter system where the children trade credits for items donated to the school. It is all very fascinating, and you get the distinct impression that something isn’t right about this school out the outside world. Why are the staff so secretive? Why is the woman they call “Madame” so inconsistent, seemingly fearful one moment and pitying towards the children in the next? Then comes the day of shock and the revelation that this is no ordinary school.
The cast of characters is broad and identifiable. Cathy’s “best friend” Ruth is selfish, thoughtless and a little controlling. Tommy is an imperfect love interest and is picked on in the school. Each reacts differently to their situation: some with a growing sense of anger, some with a mix of indifference, acceptance and resignation. Yet no matter what, they must make the best of their situation.
I do enjoy books that get under one’s skin and Never Let Me Go certainly achieves that. “Modern classic” is not a title I give out lightly, but I think English literature students of tomorrow should be studying this modern British classic if they are not already. When we look beyond the story as it stands, there are many elements of it that challenge what it is we believe about progress, and our own hypocrisies and ethical flexibility. There is a moral tale and it makes for uncomfortable reading in places.
The style is cold and dry. In a way, it kind of reminds me of the cold and brutal tone that The Hunger Games has throughout its first book. The ending leaves a profound sense of sadness for Cathy’s position and by the end, you can understand why she has become so emotionally indifferent.
I thoroughly love this book, even though I did know the story having seen the film about a month ago. Even if you have seen the film, the book is well worth a read for the extra detail that enriches the story. 5/5. Probably one of my top 10 books.