Oh, how I wish I could write eloquently enough to describe this beautiful, sad, strange, utterly absorbing novel.
Unfortunately, even if I could, there is a terrible dark secret that is revealed slowly over time, and it would be awful to spill the beans if anyone hasn't read it yet.
The students of Hailsham, a boarding school of sorts, are special. They have a special role to play in society, and are shielded from the rest of the world. They spend their days studying art and poetry, sharing secrets in the dorms, and struggling to navigate the ins and outs of friendship and love.
However, just below the idyllic boarding school scene runs a dark undercurrent. Like the Hailsham students themselves, we are slowly "told but not told" the secret. At first, you can't quite believe what your brain knows to be true. It seems unthinkable. As more and more is revealed, the sense of horror grows just under the beautifully written relationship drama.
However, this is far from a horror novel. It reminds me very strongly of The Handmaids Tale, that favorite (but horrible) Atwood novel. On the surface, it's beautifully written, full of longing and melancholy, lovely English countryside scenes, complex friendships. But the shadow that lurks... weaves its way through the story... we are never able to quite break contact with the shadow.
I wish I could write more about this book, but I really can't without revealing too much. The complicated friendship between the protagonist, Kathy, and her best friend, Ruth, and their close friend Tommy, is rich and layered, often painfully true to life. The melancholy theme of 'never let me go' runs parallel to the dark shadow... both of them interweaving through the story. The friends are inseparable, until, inevitably, life separates them.
Unfortunately I had to return the book to the library, because there was more I wanted to write but I can't remember the specific parts, but I can write about my reaction to what I read. I found this book to be deeply affecting. The sense of futility and loss, so closely tied to the beauty of friendship and love, was heartwrenching. When I finished, I closed my eyes, let it wash over me, walked out into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and then stood at the sink and cried. It took a few minutes for the full impact of the story to sink in and hit me. It has stayed with me and I find myself drifting into Hailsham melancholy at odd moments.
So beautiful and sad. I loved it. I now need to read Remains of the Day, also by Ishiguro.
** edited to add: I was thinking about it this morning and this book took me a few chapters to get into. It's told in this beautiful, slow, slightly hazy way, and while that works incredibly well, it took a little while for me to get into it. I liked it, but I wondered what what going on, where all this was going, in its meandering way. The rest of the book unfolds in these beautiful gentle leaps and plays between present and past, always folding and refolding and unfolding and finally blooming open.
The other thing I was thinking about was how incredibly masterful the storytelling is. By the end of the book, you are devastated. But all along the way, you are somehow buoyed into this gentle, peaceful sense that it's all somehow okay (although you know it really isn't, somewhere deep down, you know this isn't going anywhere good... although the journey there is beautiful... and maybe that's kind of part of the point of the book?).