The Jess Lomas Book Club: Never Let Me Go

The Jess Lomas Book Club: Never Let Me Go


*Welcome to a brand new feature in which literary connoisseur Jess Lomas examines the upcoming book-to-film adaptations worth keeping an eye on!* 

I have a T-shirt that reads: ‘Movies – Ruining the book since 1920’. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this statement, after all, if the BBC didn’t adapt Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, the world would never have been given Colin Firth emerging from a lake, white shirt drenched and sculpted to his body … sorry, where was I? Yes, book adaptations have become a Hollywood staple; not just because they offer screenwriters and filmmakers with an instant story, but because, most of the time, they comes with an inbuilt fan base.

In any given year there’s a plethora of literary adaptations hitting our screens. We’ll be bringing you a breakdown of the biggest, as well as some of the lesser known titles you should anticipate over the coming year and beyond.

First up in is a modern sci-fi classic. Never Let Me Go is a 2005 novel by Japanese-born, British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. The book was extremely well received when published, being shortlisted for the Booker Prize as well as receiving several other awards, and was named ‘Best Novel of 2005’ by Time Magazine, for what that’s worth. (Please consider a light-to-mild spoiler alert going forward.)

The book itself is divided into three parts, chronicling the lives of the protagonists Ruth, Tommy and Kathy, students at privileged-though-restrictive English boarding school Hailsham. Emphasis is placed on health above all else, and staying within the confines of the school’s boundaries, while the children are encouraged to produce art for an – at first – unknown reason. As well as being a story of an alternate reality, where humans are bred like cattle to harvest vital organs, it is also the bittersweet story of friendship and self discovery.

As Ruth, Tommy and Kathy discover their fate we move into the second section of the book: the Cottages. Ruth and Tommy’s relationship, which started back at Hailsham, begins to deteriorate, while Kathy explores her sexuality with random partners without making any commitments. She has always been fond of Tommy but it seems as though the two are destined to only be friends. As they struggle to come to terms with their diminished timelines and purpose, the three drift apart and Kathy leaves the Cottages to become a Carer, someone who helps others “donate” before going through the process themselves.

The final third of the book is set ten years later, as Ruth and Tommy enter their second round of donations and Kathy continues to be a Carer. Through a series of events the three are reunited and Ruth shares her regret of keeping Tommy and Kathy apart. Rumours have always been whispered that if two clones proved to be genuinely in love they could delay the donating process, but when Tommy and Kathy investigate this option they will make a rather unsettling discovery.

Ishiguro is no stranger to film adaptations, with his 1989 novel The Remains of the Day being adapted in the 1993 Merchant/Ivory film of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The film was nominated for an impressive eight Academy Awards but didn’t take home any golden statues; granted, it was a tough year of competition with Schindler’s List sweeping the major categories.

In the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go, directed by Mark Romanek, Carey Mulligan plays the introverted Kathy opposite Keira Knightley’s impetuous Ruth. Andrew Garfield (of The Social Network and Spider-Man reboot fame) plays social outcast Tommy; a role he scored before his name hit Hollywood’s ‘It’ list. Having been aware of the film adaptation when I picked up the book it was easy to see these characters with Mulligan’s, Knightley’s and Garfield’s faces attached; they are, after all, the cream of the young English crop.

In full disclosure, I didn’t finish reading the novel. I probably only had 80-100 pages or so left; I should have kept going but I felt like I had already given so much of my time to a novel with a great premise but a distancing text. Ishiguro held me at length with his writing style, never letting me get into these characters, and forcing me to watch them from a distance. The pacing was listless, the type of book where you find yourself accidentally reading the same sentence twice before passing out from boredom. I know my opinion is not matched by fellow Quickflix writer Simon Miraudo, who considers it one of his all-time favourite novels. Perhaps Simon can share with us if the final 80 pages made the first 220 worth slugging through.

It may surprise you to know I am actually excited to see this film, despite disliking the novel, and hope Romanek’s direction will tighten up the loose narrative. Romanek is predominantly a music video director who took a detour to direct 2002’s chilling surprise One Hour Photo. Here’s hoping his latest detour proves just as successful.

Never Let Me Go was released in America back in September of 2010. It received mixed reviews and subsequently wasn’t pushed for major awards recognition. Here in Australia we’ve seen the release date yo-yo back and forth and can now expect the film to hit our screens on March 10th. So, is all this uncertainty with release dates and overseas reception a sign of the quality of the film, or has a great film undeservedly been neglected? We won’t have long to find this answer out.

Join us next week for the next instalment of The Jess Lomas Book Club!

Discuss: Your thoughts on Never Let Me Go?

3 Responses to “The Jess Lomas Book Club: Never Let Me Go”

  1. >Wonderful write-up Jess, but SERIOUSLY?! No love for Ishiguro's masterpiece?! I can't lie – the book's final third doesn't have some epic moment of catharsis to undo the previous chapters' cold detachment. It maintains the same tone throughout.But there is something really moving about reading a tale from the perspective of someone peacefully resigned to their horrible fate. The characters are frustrating, but rightfully so – the revelations they must deal with are heartbreaking; life-changing. Although Ishiguro writes – from Kathy's POV – with icy aloofness, he knows just when to callback to the first chapter's most haunting and indelible scene(a young girl, holding a pillow like a baby, dancing by to the song 'Never Let Me Go). And it ruins me every time.

  2. >Like you Jess, I found the pace a problem. Sometimes a book gives me up, not the other way around. I did plough through it though, because I have a history of not finishing and I was trying to prove something to myself (re general laziness, from memory.) My problem was that I couldn't work out what the hell was going on. Ishiguro really tests readers out on this one – and I failed. I cheated by looking the plot up on the Wikipedia. I still wonder if I would've worked it out for myself without help.Unlike Simon, I thought that the pace did pick up towards the end, but perhaps this is only because I could see the finish line. I didn't cry, unlike a lot of people I know. I thought this was a brilliant tale, but for me I would have preferred a different writing style and structure.I'm looking forward to seeing the movie too. (That's why I read the book.)

  3. >seeeen the movie. it was alright.i wouldnt get too excited guys. though the gorgeous scenes with gorgeous people are nice.

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