GP Book Group: Never let me go

Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Faber and Faber £7.99 ISBN 057122413X 

Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, tells the story of Kathy H, as she looks back on her time at the boarding school, Hailsham. The story begins with children playing on school fields, making and breaking friendships.

But as Kathy remembers, we begin to feel an undertow of discomfort. The children at the school are different. They know they are being prepared for a life as ‘carers’ and ‘donors’ but although they recognise the words they don’t fully understand what this means.  As they grow older,  their giggly childish innocence gives way to questions and doubts as they try to make sense of who they are and what role they will play when they are adults.

Slowly we learn with Kathy that she and the other children have been created as human clones, their purpose in life to be the source of organs. While they endure their surgical trauma they are cared for by fellow clones who have yet to donate.

A strength of the story is that it is set in the recognisable and recent period This isn’t a science fiction tale. The emphasis is on relationships and identity. How the clones have come about is not explained, but it is this juxtaposition of the understated horror with the numbingly familiar that gives the novel its troubling reverberation.

It would be easy to recommend this book because it is about something vaguely medical and hence it might be of interest to GPs. Yet, the truth is that this novel isn’t really about the specifics of an ethical or scientific debate about cloning: it’s much more important than that, because its reach is far wider. It is about growing up, friendship and love. It is about the joy and the pain of finding out who you are and where you belong. Read this as a doctor, but not just as a doctor.

A critic once said that if you are not hooked by page 17 of a book, give up on it. This failed the ‘page 17’ test, but, I’m glad I persevered with it.  This is a beautifully written novel to be  savoured as a whole rather than the sum of its chapters.

Dr Antonio Munno is a GP in Bedford

What other readers thought about Never Let me Go

Dr Janet Shek, a GP from Edinburgh, says: Managed to struggle through the book slowly. Unfortunately the style of writing — in diary form of monotonous everyday events — did not appeal to me. 

Dr Elizabeth So, a GP in London: I found my signed hardback copy at a book swap at my children’s school book fair. I have always enjoyed his books. But I could not continue this book beyond the first few pages... the bizarre setting of the strange boarding school and the weird teaching, along with the condition or disease that the ‘inmates’ seemed to be suffering from, did not hold any interest for me. Maybe I persisted for about a month, but still wonder, was this just a very slow start to something much better? 

Dr Dale Fox, a GP in Manchester, says: I have not yet read next month’s book — My Sister’s Keeper — however it seems Never Let Me Go is an extension of the same idea, that people can be deliberately created only for their body parts. In My Sister’s Keeper Anna knows where her body parts are going and so there is a purpose to it all, but in the incredibly gripping , Never Let Me Go, the heroine does not see, or only gets a glimpse of the bigger picture.

The significance of the title only came to me at the end of the book. Psychologists would have a field day comparing these two books.

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