Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Page Count: 5288
Publication Date: 2010
Category/Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Contemporary
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.81)
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.
*Questions are a mix from Rabbit Hole Blogger, publisher and 2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission. Questions may contain spoilers.
- Kathy introduces herself as an experienced carer. She prides herself on knowing how to keep her donors calm, “even before fourth donation”. How did it take for you to fully understand the meaning of “donation,” “carer,” and “completed”?
- Kathy addresses us directly, with statements like “I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we used to have some form of medical every week”, and she thinks that we too might envy her having been at Hailsham. What does Kathy assume about anyone she might be addressing, and why?
- Why is it important for Kathy to seek out donors who are “from the past,” “people from Hailsham”? She learns from a donor who’d grown up at an awful place in Dorset that she and her friends at Hailsham had been really “lucky”. How does the irony of this designation grow as the novel goes on? What does Hailsham represent for Kathy, and why does she say at the end that Hailsham is “something no one can take away”?
- Art is a recurring motif throughout Never Let Me Go. In which scenes is art a topic? What is the importance to the students as children? As adults? To the story’s themes? Kathy tells the reader, “How you were regarded at Hailsham, how much you were liked and respected, had to do with how good you were at ‘creating'”. What were Hailsham’s administrators trying to achieve in attaching a high value to creativity?
- The teacher Lucy Wainright wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. Miss Emily believed that in hiding the truth, “We were able to give you something, something which even now no one will ever take from you, and we were able to do that principally by sheltering you. . . . Sometimes that meant we kept things from you, lied to you…. But…we gave you your childhoods”. In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?
- What is the book saying about childhood? Think about this, too, in the context of Miss Lucy, who wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. In contrast, Miss Emily claims they were able to give them something precious. In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?
- Kathy’s narration is the key to the novel’s disquieting effect. First person narration establishes a kind of intimacy between narrator and reader. What is it like having direct access to Kathy’s mind and feelings? How would the novel be different if narrated from Tommy’s point of view, or Ruth’s, or Miss Emily’s?
- Kathy reminds Madame of the scene in which Madame watched her dancing to a song on her Judy Bridgewater tape. How is Kathy’s interpretation of this event different from Madame’s?
- In the final paragraph, Kathy describes a flat, windswept field with a barbed wire fence “where all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled.” She imagines Tommy appearing here in “the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up”. What does the final sentence indicate about Kathy’s state of mind as she faces her losses and her own death-stoicism, denial, courage, resolution?
- One of the most common criticisms of the story is that the students never take action to change their fate. Some have expressed surprise that Kathy, Tommy, and their friends never try to escape, clinging to the possibility of deferral, but never attempt to vanish into the world of freedom that they view from a distance. Yet they love the film The Great Escape, “the moment the American jumps over the barbed wire on his bike”. Why might Ishiguro have chosen to present them as fully resigned to their early deaths? Did this bother you?
- Does the novel examine the possibility of human cloning as a legitimate question for medical ethics, or does it demonstrate that the human costs of cloning are morally repellent, and therefore impossible for science to pursue? What kind of moral and emotional responses does the novel provoke? If you extend the scope of the book’s critique, what are its implications for our own society?
- In an interview, Ishiguro talked about Never Let Me Go: “There are things I am more interested in than the clone thing. How are they trying to find their place in the world and make sense of their lives? To what extent can they transcend their fate? As time starts to run out, what are the things that really matter? Most of the things that concern them concern us all, but with them it is concertinaed into this relatively short period of time. These are things that really interest me and, having come to the realization that I probably have limited opportunities to explore these things, that’s what I want to concentrate on. I can see the appeal of travel books and journalism and all the rest of it and I hope there will be time to do them all one day. But I just don’t think that day is now.” How do these remarks relate to your own ideas about the book? [Interview with Nicholas Wroe, the Guardian, February 2, 2005.]