Why “Never Let Me Go” is Boring As Hell

Jen Pelland has read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and she is unimpressed:

I’ve made it to the halfway point, and I still have no idea why people are being raised as organ donors. Why? Because the book is both claustrophobic in its focus, and the POV character is disinterested in the world outside. The claustrophobia comes in the settings. Part 1 takes place entirely on the grounds of the boarding school, and Part 2 takes place (so far) strictly at the protagonist’s post-school home. We don’t get to see what’s happened to the rest of the world that’s made them so desperate for organs that they’ve turned people into cattle. And the POV character (and just about all the other students around her) are given opportunity after opportunity to ask questions, but they don’t. Worse, they then spend time privately mooning over why they didn’t think to ask that question that they really wanted to have answered. What do they do? They worry about grades, teachers, and sex.


This is supposed to be science fiction! You’re supposed to tell us all the cool stuff that’s happening in this crazy world you’ve invented!

I read Never Let Me Go a year back, and it bored me too — I barely finished it. That said, it seems unlikely that Ishiguro wrote Never Let Me Go specifically to piss off SF readers. The simpler explanation is: Ishiguro was trained to write in a genre that cares only about well-turned sentences and phrases, and doesn’t give a rip about plot or pacing. Therefore, the book is boring.

Also, keep in mind CLONING! and ORGAN HARVESTING!! are very very intrinsically exciting to someone who’s never bothered to read any of the thousands of SF stories that have already covered this ground. So it doesn’t occur to Ishiguro to go further — to him and his audience, these subjects are already very daring. We can deduct points for lack of curiosity and laziness, but I doubt we can chalk this up to malice.

Comparing Never Let Me Go to, say, The Road, the latter comes off far better. Like Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy hasn’t bothered to read any of the thousands of post-apocalyptic SF stories out there, and so he ends up writing a novel that doesn’t really tell an SF fan anything new about the apocalypse. But McCarthy at least has a plot — not a very fast-moving or complicated one, but at least there’s some there there. His characters actually do stuff. Even better, McCarthy does a fine job fleshing out his nasty post-apocalyptic world. We don’t find out how exactly the apocalypse happened, but we at least have a good sense of how this world works and how people try to live in it. So we at least get something readable, even if it makes us want to drop off a pile of books at McCarthy’s house with a note saying, “Please Read.”