Never Let Me Go

The circle starts Saturday 25th September 2010 at exactly 17:35 UTC.

Revelation is dated Friday 15th October 2010, exact time unknown.

Iteration closes Friday 11th February 2011 at approximately 22:50 UTC.

Saturday 25th September 2010

The circle starts with an email…

I’m interested in the Creative Writing MA and I’m planning on popping along to the next open day on the 9th October but I have a few questions…

17:35: Click ‘Send’.

I write speculative fiction. I love writing speculative fiction. I enjoy the freedom that the genre gives me to place people in exotic situations. Sometimes the conflicts that I explore could only occur in a speculative setting; at other times I could probably use a non-genre setting just as easily. My sci-fi is typically rather mundane because I don’t believe that the future will be very different to the present. My fantasy is rather urban because I can’t bring myself to write about pointy ears.

I’m always looking for ways in which to improve my writing. But speculative fiction has such a bad rep that I used to wonder whether I was wasting my time.

Monday 27th September 2010

18:00: I attended the first meeting for my Creative Writing MA and was presented with a reading list which included Nocturnes, an anthology of short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro. I was unfamiliar with the author’s name and I had preconceptions about this book: that it would be full of pretentious stories about nothing in particular.

I bought Nocturnes from Amazon, read the stories and found to my surprise that I liked most of them, and that the stories didn’t seem particularly pretentious at all.

Friday 25th October 2010

I was Googling around the news when I noticed a trailer for a new film Never Let Me Go. I watched the trailer and was surprised to notice that the writer was Kazuo Ishiguro. Ten minutes later I had discovered the following:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro also wrote The Remains of the Day.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro is “one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world” [Wikipedia].
  • Never Let Me Go was short-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize.
  • Never Let Me Go was short-listed for the 2006 Arthur C Clarke Award.
  • Never Let Me Go is “arguably” science-fiction.

I became quite giddy over finding a literary author who has also written speculative fiction – and not just that, but that one of his novels has been nominated for both the Booker Prize and the Arthur C Clarke Award. I immediately ordered a copy of Never Let Me Go, eagerly read it as soon as it arrived, and once I had finished it I realised that I had fallen in love with it.

I then awaited the release of the film.

I carried on writing both speculative fiction and non-genre fiction, reading fiction that straddled the speculative line such as The New Uncanny (various) from Comma Press and Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual for Swallowing. Recently I read an article that discusses whether the literary world is about to become more accepting of speculative fiction.

Friday 11th February 2011

08:07: Picked up the results for my first semester and discovered that I’d passed. In fact I did rather well.

20:00: Drove to the cinema with Jo to see Never Let Me Go.

22:50: Finished watching Never Let Me Go.

I realise now that Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) faced an almost impossible task when he decided to turn the novel into a film. The novel is told as a series of memories recalled from the point of view of Kathy H and there is a question over the reliability and bias of these memories (Ishiguro is well known for his unreliable narration).

I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed with the film – or at least I feel that too much of the novel that has been left out. And we’re left with little more than a strange, sad little love story.

Ruth (played by Keira Knightley) is supposed to seem jealous and spiteful: through Kathy’s perspective (Kathy is played by Carey Mulligan) we’re supposed to dislike her. But the film misses the point that we should also question Kathy’s version of events. There’s no pencil case, so we never see Kathy’s cruel side.

And the film glosses over the audio tape. In the novel, whilst Kathy is still at Hailsham school, she owns an audio tape of ‘Judy Bridgwater’ songs and the third track on the tape is called ‘Never Let Me Go’. The lyrics are:

“Never let me go…oh baby, baby… Never let me go.”

Kathy describes how she misinterpreted the lyrics when she was younger, believing that the song described a woman who could not have a baby. Kathy is listening to the music in her room day, dancing and cradling a pillow, pretending that she is holding a baby, when she notices that she is being watched by Madame, the head of the school. Madame is crying and then she hurries off. Kathy is confused, and two months later the audio tape disappears, but she doesn’t connect the two events until later in her life. Kathy describes in the novel how none of the Hailsham students are able to have babies. Later in the novel Tommy finds a replacement audio tape for Kathy during their trip to Norfolk – at this point Ruth and Tommy are still together, but this single act seems to set in motion a series of events that will bring Kathy and Tommy together.

In the film Ruth replaces Madame in the above scene, the tape is never lost and never replaced by Tommy. The trip to Norfolk seems to have little purpose.

In the final wrenching scene in both the novel and the film, Ruth stands by a fence strewn with rubbish and ponders whether Norfolk is the place where all the lost things from her childhood are “washed up”. The missing audio tape and Kathy’s relationship with both Ruth and Tommy are all connected in the novel, and this seems to be missing from the film’s finale.

Would I advise you to see the film?

No, not straight away.

Read the book first. Then you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The circle is now complete (this one anyway).



  1. To paraphrase one of my Maths lecturers:

    Splitting fiction into straight fiction and speculative fiction is like categorising animals as Elephants or non-Elephants…

  2. I love this author but my love is somewhat flawed in that he writes in a style and the stories I can only dream about writing.

    Film/book adaptations are always tough of course but am now even less sure I want to see Never Let Me Go on the big screen though I expect my curiosity will get the better of me (as usual).

    Good post Craig.

  3. benjaminjudge says:

    I find that Guardian article, and the idea that speculative fiction will be accepted into the canon quite silly. The canon is alive with speculative fiction.

    Classics include: Beowulf, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aesop, Apuleius, 1001 Nights, The Brothers Grimm, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, Baron Munchausen, Stevenson, Plato’s Timaeus, The Icelandic Sagas, Hawthorne, Poe, Dante…

    And more recently… Ishiguro, Murikami, Auster, Amis (Kingsley and Martin), Julian Barnes, Attwood, Nicola Barker, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jorge Luis Borges, Vonnegut, William Burroughs, Ballard, Will Self, Calvino, Jonathan Lethem…

    Genre is essentially just a marketing tool. Good books are good books.

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