Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

First Sentence: My name is Kathy H.

Not much is given away with that first sentence, and to be honest, it’s probably best not to know too much about this book before you start it. Just follow the plot as it slowly, and tantalizingly, unfolds. As you can see, Kathy H is the narrator. She goes on to say how she is 31 years old and has been a carer for over eleven years, looking after donors. She then proceeds to reminisce about her time at Hailsham  (a kind of boarding school), and in particular her friendship with Tommy and Ruth. All is not how it seems however, and before too long we realise this is no ordinary school, in fact, nothing is ordinary, and nothing is as it seems in this thought-provokingly original novel. I really enjoyed this book. I found the writing to be exquisite, and I think the fact that I knew absolutely nothing of the plot before I started it (I didn’t even read the blurb on the back), only heightened my enjoyment. For that reason I’ll say no more, but if you want to know how it ends/what it’s all about…

* * * *

Last Sentence: I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Last Sentence explained: It turns out that everybody at Hailsham, except the guardians, is a clone, purpose-bred to provide organs to ‘real humans’. They have no parents and they have no future. When they leave they either become donors, or first they become carers before eventually becoming donors anyway, until they ‘complete’. This book is split into three parts. The first is based in Hailsham where the students spend most of their time creating art, which, if it is good enough, is selected by the mysterious Madame who then puts it in her ‘Gallery’. It is here that Tommy and Ruth begin their relationship. In the second part they have left Hailsham and are living in the ‘cottages’, where they begin to have contact with the outside world. While they are here they go on their trip to Norfolk which is a central scene in the novel. Earlier, in Hailsham, Kathy lost a tape (Songs After Dark by Judy Bridgewater) and there was a running joke that Norfolk was a mystical place where all the lost property in England ended up. This is because it is known as the ‘lost corner of England’. On this tape was Kathy’s favourite song Never Let Me Go, which is where the novel gets its title. As they are going to Norfolk anyway to see if they can find Ruth’s ‘possible’ (effectively her parent), Tommy suggest that they look for her tape, which they eventually find (or, at least, another copy [clone] of it). In the final part of the book, Kathy is a carer and Ruth and Tommy are donors. Just before Ruth dies she convinces Kathy and Tommy to become a couple, something she has actively discouraged throughout the book. There was a rumour at Hailsham that if a couple were truly in love then they could defer donations. This was supposedly why Madame took their art, as it revealed their true selves, their souls, and if she believed two people were in love she could grant them a reprieve. None of this is true however, which Tommy and Kathy both realise when they finally confront Madame. At the very end, after Tommy has also died, Kathy drives to Norfolk once more. She gets out of her car and stares into a litter-strewn field imagining that everything she ever lost really IS in Norfolk, and Tommy himself will appear at any minute. This fantasy is fleeting however and only lasts a minute before she rejoins the real world…

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2 thoughts on “Never Let Me Go

  1. also, for the last sentence:
    “… wherever I was supposed to be.” emphasises how all her life (and the clones’ lives) was built for someone else. that the main purpose of her life was to donate and then ‘complete’. it also stresses that, although she has freedom (she has her own car and can drive anywhere), she chooses to confine to being a carer (and perhaps a donor later on). from a very early age, these clones were ‘trained’ to think a certain way; they were psychologically altered to accept the fact that they will not have futures and that all of them have to become donors at some point in their lives. they were controlled since the very beginning; the guardians telling them certain bits of information while censoring other bits of information (like with the cigarettes) – they’ve “been told and not told”.

    it’s a bit nonchalant ending, with the readers knowing that Kathy will also suffer the same fate as Ruth and Tommy and other donors.

    • Fair point KC. I really like endings like this one which are open ended, but give a sense of closure at the same time. It almost makes the story live on in your head after you’ve finished reading…

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