Friday, November 11, 2011

Never Let Me Go -the Second Time Around


I reread the brilliant Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and absolutely loved it the second time around. (spoilers) I think it helped that I knew the ending this time. I wasn't hoping that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy would somehow run away and escape. I wasn't distressed by their passive acceptance of it all. I knew there wasn't any hope so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. I think the main question it raises is what would have been preferable - growing up in Hailsham and  'not knowing' or 'half knowing' their fate or growing up in another donor school where their existence and education may have been bleaker but at least they would have known the truth about their purpose. I still don't know the right answer so I'm sure this would make an interesting discussion point in our book club later this month. Readers, I would love to know your thoughts on this if you have read the book.

The first time I read Never Let Me Go, I remember not being particularly charmed by any of the characters. I didn't dislike them but I didn't love them. However, in spite of that I rooted for them every step of the way. The second time around I really grew to care about Kathy, Ruth and Tommy and their plight. It's interesting how different readings can produce distinct reactions.

I remember watching the film and hoping Hollywood would weave its magic spell and churn out a happy ending. I think it's just a testament to our humanity that in spite of it all we hope for the best. For once, I didn't want the film to be like the book. But no, there were no surprises and no one lives happily ever after. I felt the depressing feeling that doesn't come often when watching a film. Only one other film comes to mind that brings about such a heavy heart and that is Breaking The Waves. You'll understand exactly what I mean if you've seen that movie.


Never Let Me Go stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield plus a fantastic supporting cast. I must say that everyone gave an excellent performance especially Andrew Garfield who I only later found out played Eduardo in The Social Network. Two roles that couldn't be more different. Some things were left out but all in all I thought it was a worthy adaptation by Alex Garland. In hindsight, looking at the poster for the film above, I realize how fitting that photo actually is. I think it perfectly captures the feeling of hopelessness. The feeling of just wanting to be free, to escape against all odds. It's a heartbreaking poster because I know their story.

17 comments:

  1. This is one that I've heard so much about that I feel like I have read it. I don't think I will ever read it, but I may check out the movie.

    It's interesting to me that you say you liked it more knowing how it ended. I read a post on Roger Ebert's blog about a month ago about spoilers. Apparently, not knowing the ending is a relatively new desire in movie-going. Back in the day, movies were shown continuously so people just went in whenever they arrived, watched the movie to the end and then stayed to watch the beginning of the next show. No one cared about knowing the ending ahead of time at all. I remember doing that as a kid myself.

    I agree that it does let you appreciate other aspects of the movie/book which can be nice.

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  2. That's an interesting question, because the first time I read the book, it was killing me *not* knowing what was going on. So I definitely agree that if I were to reread this, I could definitely appreciate the story more as I go along, as opposed to concentrating on where it was going.

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  3. This book was hard to read and I don't think I could face it again.

    But I agree that poster is brilliant. They're running toward a place that looks nice...but when they get there, there's nowhere else to go. They're trapped.

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  4. @CB James - You have to read this book. It's a must read and it doesn't matter that you know the ending. About spoilers - I guess it depends. Sometimes if it's a sad ending then maybe it helps to know it ahead of time.

    @Fancy Terrible - I felt exactly like you the first time I read the book. I kept expecting them to run away or just stand up for themselves and that's partly the reason why I was frustrated with it the first time.

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  5. I loved this book when I first read it, but am not sure that I want to read it again. It made me very low for the next few days.

    I will probably see the movie though...funny about impressions. To me, that poster looked like they were running joyfully towards something. And my first thought was it doesn't seem to match the tone of the book at all.

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  6. @nishitak - Yes, I agree it's one of the most depressing books I've ever read but that doesn't detract from it's brilliance.

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  7. Reading your review makes me want to reread Never Let Me Go too. The book reminded me of the tone of Ian McEwan's Atonement. You fall in love in the characters, you keep reading with that knowing feeling that it's going to end bad but you keep on reading hoping for a happy ending anyway.

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  8. I'm so pleased this worked well second time around. I think knowing the ending really would change the reading experience and it is great to hear that you engaged with the characters a lot more second time around. I look forward to my re-read experience in a decade or two :-)

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  9. I was actually incredibly bored by the book, because I thought the writing was so bland. This was possibly deliberate, but that didn't stop its effects on me! (Maybe I need to read it a second time??)

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  10. @laveeir17 - yes it does have the same understated tone of Atonement. Funny that Keira Knightely stars in both adaptations. She does know how to pick good scripts.

    @StuckInABook - Therein lies Ishiguro's brilliance - the fact that he writes in such an understated way and yet we sense all the emotions underneath. That's why I thought the scene where Tommy gets out of the car just to scream was so heartwrenching.

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  11. I find it interesting that you enjoyed the book more the second time around because you knew the outcome. I recently heard this theory stated, that spoilers aren't really spoilers. That, as you said, sometimes knowing the outcome of a story enhances the read.

    I loved, loved Remains of the Day and Ishiguiro's writing. I was disappointed in Never Let Me Go, because it was so disturbing. A second read? Maybe. I see your point. However, with so many books, so little time, it won't be at the top of my list.

    But thanks for the think!

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  12. @deborahserravalle - I felt exactly like you the first time I read it. This is my book club choice for this month so I had to read it again. I'm glad I did.

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  13. You know, if indeed it was Hollywood that made the film, it's likely they'd change it to a happier ending. But it's not, and I'm grateful for the filmmaker for staying close to the plot. It's the poignancy at the end that brings out the issue. I loved the movie. After seeing it I went back to the book and reread it. Like you, I enjoyed it more the second time, especially after the movie had somewhat clarified certain points for me. If you're interested, I've also a Book into Movie post on Never Let Me Go.

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  14. @Aarti - you are right in that Hollywood didn't make the film. My mistake. In hindsight, I'm also grateful he stayed close to the plot although of course while watching the film I couldn't help but hope for happiness and escape for them.

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  15. i cried like a baby when i saw it the second time, my first watch was too concentrated on what they used from the book.
    and yes! andrew garfield is fantastic. if you haven't seen Boy A yet, you should. it's heartbreaking but beautiful and garfield is going to be BIG. i guess he already is, but i think he will be for a very long time.

    i'm planning on watching the best of youth, thanks for the rec.!

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  16. I reviewed this one several years ago and my book club discussed it too. It's the book that almost killed the book club! We had a great discussion, but found out later that one member was deeply offended by the thoughts of some others and quit because of it. One member compared Kath and the others to the Jews in Nazi Germany and this person felt it was a horribly offensive comparison. She wrote the group a scathing email after the meeting about the ignorance of some members of the group and then quit. We were shocked.

    http://lisamm.wordpress.com/2008/11/16/review-never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro/

    http://lisamm.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/sunday-salon-at-night/

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  17. I recently wrote something about this book, you might want to check it out (it is more of a barrage of thoughts than a standard review):

    http://bookrhapsody.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/never-let-me-go-kazuo-ishiguro/

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