Cinematic Saturdays: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Intro: In addition to being an incurable bibliophile, I have a minor obsession with films. So, naturally, I can’t think of a single better use of my time than indulging in both mediums and cross-comparing the two. I mean c’mon, everyone loves to rip a movie a new one after first reading the book. It’s one of every pseudo-intellectual’s most cherished pastimes. And as a card-carrying member of Pseudo-Intellectuals-Not-So-Anonymous, it’s my right, nay, my responsibility to cram my opinions down the throats of everyone too polite to tell me to shut up. So let’s sit down with a cup of fancy, imported coffee (just kidding, it’s generic, instant, and little stale), and talk about the finer things.

My first novel/film duo up for review is Never Let Me Go by the incomparable, Booker Prize winning Kazuo Ishiguro. Take a look at the stats and summery below and then I’ll dole out those opinions I promised you.

Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2005
Pages: 288
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction


Summary (from Goodreads): As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

I am in no way exaggerating when I say this is my favorite novel of all time, and I usually struggle to get into science fiction. However, I think calling this science fiction is a bit misleading. It’s one of those books that doesn’t quite fit inside the parameters of any one genre, which, for me, is part of its appeal. At its core I’d say that Never Let Me Go is a literary novel/masterpiece/friggin’ legend that happens to take place in a dystopian futuristic society. Ishiguro’s characters are incredibly sympathetic given the surreality of their circumstances, and beautifully illustrate the struggle intrinsic to the general human experience.

I won’t lie to you, this book is heartbreaking. Seriously, if it doesn’t make you cry, you’re dead inside, you monster! ::Weeps:: Okay. I’m okay. Where were we? Tears. Yes. Many, many tears.

You may, at first, find yourself feeling sad/sorry for the characters, but the true genius of Ishiguro’s writing is that, by the end, you feel sad for yourself. It becomes clear over the course of the story (so precisely, intentionally, gradually) that the characters, and the story as a whole, are/is one giant metaphor for the fleetingness of life; your life, the lives of those you love, etc. It is a flawless observation of how little time we have here, and a reminder to appreciate every second of that time.

Five out of five stars, two enthusiastic thumbs (and big toes) up, and ten out of ten buckets of boiling tears.


If after reading the novel you could use a pick-me-up, and Lord knows you will, I’d recommend watching the unintentional rib-splitting comedy that is the film-adaptation. Juuust kidding, the movie’s a stone-cold bummer. BUT it will take less time from start to finish, so if you’d prefer only 105 minutes of tragedy as opposed to a full day (or however long it generally takes you to read a novel) the movie might be a good option for you.

HOWEVER, I do have some qualms. Really, I shouldn’t be too critical because not even Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Bryan Dumbledore could adequately capture/represent this book through film, but still…gotta’ cram those opinions down some throats or else they’ll kick me out of the club.

Aside from general issues, like the director taking too much liberty in editing/tweaking an already impeccable story, I was confused by things like casting. I felt that Kiera Knightley was a strange choice for the part of Ruth, and really for this story in general. I feel she has a tendency to read kind of flat at the best of times, so when put into a slowly developing, quiet, reflective story, the lack of dimension becomes a bit painful. Also, Ruth is quite calculating, selfish, and vindictive (though still miraculously sympathetic), and Knightley really failed to communicate that complexity. However, the overall “flatness” isn't all her fault. In fact, unlike in the book, Ruth plays a fairly minor role in the film. This is disappointing because she's one of the more interesting characters. Had there been more of her, played by someone else, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Overall, the movie takes a beautiful, gently ascending and meticulously sculpted story arc and makes it feel downright flat, slow, and boring. I give it two and a half out of five stars.

But don’t take my word for it, I know several people who list the film-adaptation of Never Let Me Go among their all-time favorite movies. And who knows, maybe if I’d seen it before I read the book it would have really blown me away.

What about you? Have thoughts, questions, suggestions for future comparison reviews, or throat-shoving opinions of your own? I’d love to hear them all! Feel free to leave a comment below.

Until next time, lovelies.

(one of your seven billion dysfunctional siblings)

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