Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel which follows the lives of a group of young people who have been cloned and raised as organ donors. They all seem curiously reconciled to their fate, and the book's tone is one of moody resignation, as if it were all happening to a Portishead soundtrack.
And music is rather important to the title. Ishiguro revealed in an interview in 2005 that Never Let Me Go was originally the title of a completely different, earlier book he had written (or part-written), one about a group of struggling song-writers.
This is a surprisingly common titling strategy: readers of this blog might remember that TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom was the title of an earlier book about seven Middle-Eastern cities, but was transferred to his magnum opus about battling in sand. Sometimes a title is so good that you can’t just bin it because it's of no real relevance. Consider The Postman Always Rings Twice – utterly irrelevant to a book in which there is no postman and no ring, either single or dual: but James M Cain obviously just couldn’t Let It Go.
Perhaps as a back-formation, Ishiguro did insert the phrase ‘Never Let Me Go’ into the book: ‘Never Let Me Go’ is the title of a song that the narrator, Kathy H., sings to keep her spirits up. As another character ('Madame') points out, the phrase expresses how the new world the cloned organ-donor is entering is likely to be less forgiving than the old world of their student days, and that Kathy is unconsciously wishing that the old world 'never let her go'.
There is another way, however, in which the title is illuminating. For Ishiguro the theme of song-writing has personal significance. In his early career he tried to make it as a singer-songwriter, wrote and performed dozens of songs, made demo tapes and negotiated with A&R men, before finally giving it all up in the late ‘70s to write books. ‘I think I got through my intense adolescent autobiographical phase in my songwriting,’ Ishiguro said in another interview. ‘By the time I came to write short stories, I'd managed to pare things right down.’
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