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Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro)

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005
Knopf Doubleday
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307740991


Summary
From the acclaimed author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, a moving new novel that subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed—even comforted—by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood-and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance-and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—November 8, 1954
Where—Nagasaki, Japan
Reared—England, UK
Education—B.A., University of Kent (UK); M.A., University of
   East Anglia
Awards—Whitbread Prize, 1986; Booker Prize, 1989;
   Chevalier de l'Order des arts et lettres, 1998
Currently—lives in London, England


Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of five previous novels, including The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker Prize and became an international best seller. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. In 1995 he received an Order of the British Empire for service to literature, and in 1998 was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

More
Ishiguro's novels share certain qualities. The chronology of his plotting is elaborate and the narration is highly subjective. His ability to capture the details and atmosphere of a period has received high praise.

A number of his novels are set in the past. His most recent, Never Let Me Go, had science fiction qualities and a futuristic tone; however, the given time period is the late 1990s, and thus takes place in an alternate, though very similar, world. His fourth novel, The Unconsoled, takes place in an unnamed Central European city. The Remains of the Day is set in the large country house of an English lord, in the period leading up to, and the period after, the Second World War.

An Artist of the Floating World is set in Ishiguro's home town of Nagasaki during the period of reconstruction following the detonation of the atomic bomb there in 1945. The narrator is forced to come to terms with his part in the Second World War. He finds himself blamed by the new generation who accuse him of being part of Japan's misguided foreign policy, and is forced to confront the ideals of the modern times as represented in his grandson.

The novels are written in the first-person narrative style and the narrators often exhibit human failings. Ishiguro's technique is to allow these characters to reveal their flaws implicitly during the narrative. The author thus creates a sense of pathos by allowing the reader to see the narrator's flaws while being drawn into sympathy with him. That pathos is often derived from the narrator's actions, or, more often, inaction. In The Remains of the Day, the butler Stevens fails to act on his romantic feelings toward the housekeeper Miss Kenton because he fails to reconcile his sense of service and his personal life.

The novels end without a sense of resolution. The issues his characters confront are buried in the past, and those issues remain unresolved. Thus Ishiguro ends many of his novels on a note of melancholic resignation, whereby his characters accept their past and who they have become, and find comfort in that realization by a relief from mental anguish. This can be seen as a literary reflection on the Japanese idea of mono no aware. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
In this novel, Mr. Ishiguro has set aside the windy Kafkaesque pretensions of his last two books to tell a tight, deftly controlled story. Though the grisly material he's dealing with is light years removed from that in The Remains of the Day, the resulting novel is just as accomplished and, in a very different way, just as melancholy and alarming.
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times


There is no way around revealing the premise of Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel. It is brutal, especially for a writer celebrated as a poet of the unspoken. But it takes a while for us to get a handle on it. Since it's the nature of Ishiguro narrators to postpone a full reckoning of their place in the world, all we know in the early going is that we don't quite know what's going on.
Sarah Kerr - The New York Times Book Review


What Madame thinks she sees will not be revealed for many pages, but it gets right to the essence of this quite wonderful novel, the best Ishiguro has written since the sublime The Remains of the Day. It is almost literally a novel about humanity: what constitutes it, what it means, how it can be honored or denied. These little children, and the adults they eventually become, are brought up to serve humanity in the most astonishing and selfless ways, and the humanity they achieve in so doing makes us realize that in a new world the word must be redefined. Ishiguro pulls the reader along to that understanding at a steady, insistent pace. If the guardians at Hailsham "timed very carefully and deliberately everything they told us, so that we were always just too young to understand properly the latest piece of information," by the same token Ishiguro carefully and deliberately unfolds Hailsham's secrets one by one, piece by piece, as if he were slowly peeling an artichoke.
Jonathan Yardley - The Washington Post


Ishiguro's previous novels, including the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day and A Pale View of the Hills, have been exquisite studies of microcosmic worlds whose inhabitants struggle with loss and love, despair and hope. Above all, his characters strive to forge an enduring self-identity that can withstand the blows of an uncaring world. His new novel centers on one such character, Kathy H., and her attempts not only to find herself but also to understand her role in a mysterious world whose meanings she often fails to comprehend. As a child, Kathy H. attended Hailsham, a private preparatory school whose teachers and guardians sheltered the students from reality. Now 31, Kathy has assumed the position for which she was trained at Hailsham so long ago, and she has put the memories of her Hailsham days out of her mind. When she is thrown together with two of her old school friends, she begins to relive experiences that both call into question her friendships and deepen them. Her memories reveal also that the pastoral and pleasant Hailsham harbored dark and mysterious secrets that she now can begin to understand. Ishiguro's elegant prose and masterly ways with characterization make for a lovely tale of memory, self-understanding, and love. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA
Library Journal


Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up together as children at exclusive Hailsham, a remote boarding school secluded in the English countryside. Hailsham is a place of rigid and mysterious rules, and teachers constantly remind their charges just how special they are. Still, Hailsham will come to be regarded fondly by them, a haven that they will only later appreciate. Now, years later, Ruth and Tommy are drastically weakened by organ donation surgeries, and are ultimately waiting to "complete." While caring for the two at different British centres, a grown-up Kathy only now begins to understand what makes the three of them so special, and how it has determined the courses of their lives. Melancholy, suspenseful, and at times alarming, this novel is a compellingly dark page-turner. As Ishiguro slowly and carefully unveils the truth about Hailsham, he reveals the dark underbelly of a post-war society prepared to take any measures, no matter how extreme, in order to vanquish its own loss and suffering. Ishiguro succeeds in building suspense and then deftly reveals only snatches of meaning in carefully controlled increments. Never Let Me Go is an eerie novel about the potential future relationship between modern science and Western society—and the conflicting consequences. Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults.
Sarah Howard - KLIATT


An ambitious scientific experiment wreaks horrendous toll in the Booker-winning British author's disturbingly eloquent sixth novel (after When We Were Orphans, 2000). Ishiguro's narrator, identified only as Kath(y) H., speaks to us as a 31-year-old social worker of sorts, who's completing her tenure as a "carer," prior to becoming herself one of the "donors" whom she visits at various "recovery centers." The setting is "England, late 1990s" —more than two decades after Kath was raised at a rural private school (Hailsham) whose students, all children of unspecified parentage, were sheltered, encouraged to develop their intellectual and especially artistic capabilities, and groomed to become donors. Visions of Brave New World and 1984 arise as Kath recalls in gradually and increasingly harrowing detail her friendships with fellow students Ruth and Tommy (the latter a sweet, though distractible boy prone to irrational temper tantrums), their "graduation" from Hailsham and years of comparative independence at a remote halfway house (the Cottages), the painful outcome of Ruth's breakup with Tommy (whom Kath also loves), and the discovery the adult Kath and Tommy make when (while seeking a "deferral" from carer or donor status) they seek out Hailsham's chastened "guardians" and receive confirmation of the limits long since placed on them. With perfect pacing and infinite subtlety, Ishiguro reveals exactly as much as we need to know about how efforts to regulate the future through genetic engineering create, control, then emotionlessly destroy very real, very human lives—without ever showing us the faces of the culpable, who have "tried to convince themselves.... That you were less than human, so it didn't matter." That this stunningly brilliant fiction echoes Caryl Churchill's superb play A Number and Margaret Atwood's celebrated dystopian novels in no way diminishes its originality and power. A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience. Send a copy to the Swedish Academy.
Kirkus Review



Discussion Questions 
1. Kathy introduces herself as an experienced carer. She prides herself on knowing how to keep her donors calm, "even before fourth donation" [p. 3]. How long does it take for the meaning of such terms as "donation," "carer," and "completed" to be fully revealed?

2. 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" [p. 13], and she thinks that we too might envy her having been at Hailsham [p. 4]. What does Kathy assume about anyone she might be addressing, and why?

3. Why is it important for Kathy to seek out donors who are "from the past," "people from Hailsham" [p. 5]? 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" [p. 6]. 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" [p. 287]?

4. 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'" [p. 16]. What were Hailsham's administrators trying to achieve in attaching a high value tocreativity?

5. 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?

6. What are some of Ruth's most striking character traits? How might her social behavior, at Hailsham and later at the Cottages, be explained? Why does she seek her "possible" so earnestly [pp. 159-67]?

7. One of the most notable aspects of life at Hailsham is the power of the group. Students watch each other carefully and try on different poses, attitudes, and ways of speaking. Is this behavior typical of most adolescents, or is there something different about the way the students at Hailsham seek to conform?

8. How do Madame and Miss Emily react to Kathy and Tommy when they come to request a deferral? Defending her work at Hailsham, Miss Emily says, "Look at you both now! You've had good lives, you're educated and cultured" [p. 261]. What is revealed in this extended conversation, and how do these revelations affect your experience of the story?

9. Why does Tommy draw animals? Why does he continue to work on them even after he learns that there will be no deferral?

10. 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? How else might it be interpreted? Is the song's title again recalled by the book's final pages [pp. 286-88]?

11. After their visit to Miss Emily and Madame, Kathy tells Tommy that his fits of rage might be explained by the fact that "at some level you always knew" [p. 275]. Does this imply that Kathy didn't? Does it imply that Tommy is more perceptive than Kathy?

12. 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?

13. The novel takes place in "the late 1990s," and a postwar science boom has resulted in human cloning and the surgical harvesting of organs to cure cancer and other diseases. In an interview with January Magazine Ishiguro said that he is not interested in realism.* In spite of the novel's fictitious premise, however, how "realistically" does Never Let Me Go reflect the world we live in, where scientific advancement can be seemingly irresistible?

14. 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" [p. 268]. In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?

15. Is it surprising that Miss Emily admits feeling revulsion for the children at Hailsham? Does this indicate that she believes Kathy and Tommy are not fully human? What is the nature of the moral quandary Miss Emily and Madame have gotten themselves into?

16. Critic Frank Kermode has noted that "Ishiguro is fundamentally a tragic novelist; there is always a disaster, remote but urgent, imagined but real, at the heart of his stories" [London Review of Books, April 21, 2005]. How would you describe the tragedy at the heart of Never Let Me Go?

17. Some reviewers have expressed surprise that Kathy, Tommy, and their friends never try to escape their ultimate fate. They cling 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" [p. 99]. Why might Ishiguro have chosen to present them as fully resigned to their early deaths?

18. Reread the novel's final paragraph, in which 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" [p. 287]. 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?

19. In a recent 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.]
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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