Never Let Me Go
By Kazuo Ishiguro
It's odd which books leave a permanent impression. I read great books that usually fade off into obscurity again soon after reading (Water for Elephants). Others I remember in bits and pieces. I can tell you the basic plot, maybe even remember a character's name or two and perhaps a few specific points in the narrative that I felt were particularly memorable (Shalimar the Clown). Still others are so terribly bad that I recall them simply because it offended my sensibilities so much (Twilight). Then there are the rarest books of all. The ones that leave an indelible mark. The ones that refuse to go away, even long after reading. These books simmer just under the surface and are always the first books I recall when people ask me about my favorite books.
This is not to say that these ARE my favorite books, but for whatever reason they have imprinted themselves onto my brain. Plot, tone, mood, characters, setting, pacing.... everything is right there for immediate recall as if I read them yesterday. But it's not fair to say they are necessarily among my favorites. Midnight's Children is one of my all-time favorite books but I struggle to remember the details (I should probably re-read that one one of these days) as is Creation by Gore Vidal but I don't remember them as well as say, Late Night on Air by Elizabeth Hay. Some books just won't go away. Here are the ten books that I recall vividly long after finishing them (note that many of these have very specific gimmicks. That probably says a lot about the sort of books I enjoy):
1. Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler
2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
3. Replay by Ken Grimwood
4. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
5. Fall On Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald
6. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
7. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
8. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (Chapter 10 especially)
9. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
10. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize nominated novel Never Let Me Go has all the criteria to squeeze onto this personal list. It is a haunting novel lush with details that makes the reader want to flip back to page one and start all over again immediately after finishing the last page. It's one of those books that I will forcibly foist upon friends when it is within my means. The fact that it does have a particular gimmick only adds to it's appeal for me.
Never Let Me Go is a sterling example of what can be done with science fiction in the hands of a talented novelist. I am not suggesting that Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury or the likes are bad novelists... far from it... but they were often limited by their genre. Ishiguro, like Margaret Atwood, is not strictly a science fiction writer and therefore brings fresh elements to the table. He applies a softness, compassion and, indeed, quirkiness to the genre that allows it to broaden it's scope without being weighed down by the conventions of science fiction.
Furthermore, Ishiguro is a writer entirely in command of his work. He leads the reader through his finely sculpted world one step at a time, opening the door a little at a time. Da Vinci Code Brown should take some notes. This is the way to write cliffhanger chapters. The revel is slow and methodical but at the same time relentless and tragic. Dan Brown has been wrongly commended on his talent to keep readers turning the pages. When you read Ishiguro you realize how clumsy Brown is as a writer.
I've often read books nominated for the Booker and thought to myself: "Who voted for this?" In the case of Never Let Me Go the question switches to "Who didn't vote for this?" No disrespect intended to the 2005 winner John Banville or his novel The Sea... until I read it, of course.