Never Let Me Go (novel)

Never Let Me Go (novel)
Never Let Me Go  
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author(s) Kazuo Ishiguro
Cover artist Aaron Wilner
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Dystopian, Science fiction novel, Speculative fiction
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date 2005
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 288
ISBN ISBN 1-4000-4339-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number 56058300
Dewey Decimal 823/.914 22
LC Classification PR6059.S5 N48 2005
Preceded by When We Were Orphans
Followed by Nocturnes

Never Let Me Go (2005) is a dystopian science fiction novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (an award Ishiguro had previously won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day), for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. TIME magazine named it the best novel of 2005 and included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1] It also received an ALA Alex Award in 2006. It was made into a film directed by Mark Romanek in 2010.



The novel is divided in three sections that chronicle the phases of the main characters' lives.


This section is set at the fictional Hailsham boarding school in East Sussex, England. It is clear from the peculiar way the teachers—known as "guardians"—treat the students, that Hailsham is not a normal boarding school. Eventually, it is revealed to the reader and to the students that the children are clones created to provide vital organs for non-clones ("originals"). The students are not taught any life skills, though the teachers encourage the students to produce various forms of art and poetry. The best works are chosen by a woman known only as "Madame," who takes them away. Students believe she keeps their work in a secret Gallery although this is not discussed with guardians.

The three main characters—Ruth, Tommy and Kathy—develop a close friendship. From a young age, Kathy seems to have resigned herself to being a rather passive observer of other people and the choices they make, instead of making her own. Tommy, an isolated boy who struggles to be creative, is often the target of bullies. And while Ruth is an extrovert with strong opinions who appears to be the center of social activity in her cohort, she is not as confident as she is perceived to be. Early on in the story, Kathy develops a fondness for Tommy, looking after him when he is bullied.

Although a bond grows between Kathy and Tommy, their relationship doesn't become physical. Instead, Ruth and Tommy enter into a sexual relationship, as many of the students do. At one point, they break up, and Kathy resolves to begin a relationship with Tommy, with many of the fellow students seeing it as the normal course of events. But Ruth asks Kathy to talk to Tommy in order to patch things up between herself and Tommy, so instead of asking for a relationship between herself and Tommy, Kathy ends up interceding to get Tommy to take Ruth back. Ruth and Tommy remain together throughout their remaining time at Hailsham.


In the second section, the characters, who are now young adults, around age 16 – 18, have moved to the "Cottages," residential complexes where they begin contact with the external world. It is clear from the descriptions of the Cottages that they are vastly inferior to the luxuries of Hailsham. The buildings are cold and in poor condition, and there is little for the clones to do there, with no supervision apart from one maintenance man. The romantic relationship that had developed between Ruth and Tommy continues, while Kathy explores her sexuality with other students there without forming any long-term relationship. Kathy often takes the role of the peacemaker in the tumultuous relationship between Tommy and Ruth.

During their time at the Cottages, the characters travel to Norfolk, where two of their housemates tell them of a rumor that Hailsham students might be allowed to "defer" from being donors for three years if they have truly fallen in love. Tommy hypothesizes that Madame collected their art for her Gallery to use it as a kind of lie detector. The art would tell administrators whether clones are telling the truth about being in love, via their personality that they reveal through their art. Tommy feels great anxiety about this issue, because he was always bad at art; he was told that it wasn't important if his art was any good, but then later told that it was important. Thus he began working on his art in secret in order to convince Madame that he can truly be in love with Ruth.

Tensions among Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy rise as they all struggle to find acceptance and understanding outside Hailsham and with each other. Among these tensions is Kathy's hypothesis and Ruth's outburst that children such as themselves were modeled from the human "trash" of the Earth. These complications inevitably lead to Kathy requesting early departure from the cottages to become a "carer"—a clone who cares for other clones recovering from organ-removal surgery.


The third section involves Tommy and Ruth becoming donors and Kathy becoming a "carer." About ten years go by without Kathy seeing Ruth or Tommy. Towards the end of this time Kathy sees her old classmate Laura, who is also a carer, and they speak. The reader learns from their conversation that Hailsham has recently closed and that Ruth is on her first donation, which did not go well, and her health has deteriorated. Kathy begins to care for Ruth, and Ruth is aware that the next donation will most likely be her last. She suggests to Kathy that they take a trip and, knowing that Tommy is in a nearby facility, bring Tommy with them. Kathy and Ruth pick up Tommy at his hospital, and they drive to see a beached boat that they'd heard about.

During this trip, Ruth expresses regret and vocalizes what had been only earlier implied: she used deliberate manipulations to come between Kathy and Tommy despite sensing their bond. In an effort to make amends, Ruth hands them a piece of paper with Madame's address, and urges them to pursue a relationship with one another and seek a deferral. Tommy seems puzzled yet excited about the possibility of getting a deferral, while Kathy seems skeptical and afraid to be too hopeful. Soon after the trip, Ruth makes her second donation and dies, which is euphemistically referred to as "completion" by the characters.

Kathy then becomes Tommy's carer and begins a romantic relationship with him. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, the pair decide to seek out Madame and see if they can defer Tommy's fourth donation (which is often the last one). Tommy has brought art with him, as evidence of his personality, to back up his claims that he and Kathy are in love. Madame leads Kathy and Tommy inside, where they also meet Miss Emily, their old headmistress. They learn that Hailsham was a failed effort on their part to prove to society that clones had souls. They emphasized art as a means to make this point to the world. However, the experiment ultimately failed to achieve what they had wanted and they lost their funding and Hailsham had to be closed. Other clones were raised in much grimmer circumstances. Miss Emily dismisses the rumor that Hailsham students may defer their donations if they fall in love.

The pair learn that Hailsham was an experiment to improve the living conditions and alter societal attitudes toward clones. Until Hailsham, society had preferred to view clones merely as non-human sources of organs. Kathy and Tommy learn that Miss Emily actually was disgusted by the clones, and that Miss Lucy (another teacher at Hailsham) was dismissed for her dangerously open attitudes towards them. Tommy is upset and bewildered by the discovery of the purpose of Hailsham, whereas Kathy appears simply humbled, as if she has passively accepted her fate. The novel ends after Tommy's "completion" (i.e. death), on a note of resignation, as Kathy will now become a donor and eventually "complete".


The novel's title comes from a song on an American cassette tape called Songs After Dark by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater. Kathy finds the tape during a swap meet-type event at Hailsham. Hearing it not as a love song, as it is supposedly intended, but rather as a mother's plea to her baby, Kathy on many occasions dances while holding her pillow and singing the chorus: "Baby, never let me go." On one occasion, while she is dancing and singing, she notices Madame watching her and crying. At this time Kathy does not understand the significance of the event. She then loses the tape and is devastated. Years later, on a trip to Norfolk, Tommy and Kathy find the tape and he buys it for her, although it has lost some of its significance. As adults, during the final confrontation between Kathy, Tommy, and Madame, Kathy asks Madame about her tears after seeing her that day, years ago. Madame replies that the image she had seen was of a little girl facing the new world that was emerging, an efficient but cruel world, and asking the old world not to let her go.


  • Kathy, the protagonist and narrator in the story, is a clone who is raised as an organ donor. As a young child, Kathy is free-spirited, kind, loving, and stands up for what is right. At the end of the novel, Kathy is a young woman who doesn't show much emotion when looking back on her past. As an adult, she criticizes people less and is accepting of whatever happens to her and her friends.
  • Tommy, first introduced as a young boy at Hailsham with a bad temper, gets tricks played on him by the other children because they want to get a reaction out of him. He starts out having bad temper tantrums when he gets picked on, until Miss Lucy, a Hailsham Guardian, tells him something that changes his life for the better for a period of time: it is okay if he’s not creative. He feels great relief. Then one day, Miss Lucy tells him that she shouldn't have said what she did, and Tommy goes through another transformation, once again feeling fundamentally upset by his lack of artistic skills. He becomes a quiet and sad teenager. As he matures, Tommy becomes a young man who is calm and thoughtful.
  • Ruth, a young girl at Hailsham, is described by the narrator as being very bossy at the beginning of the novel. She has a lot of hope for her future and thinks that she will be able to become something other than an organ donor. However, her hopes are crushed as she realizes that she was born to be an organ donor and has no other future. Towards the middle of the novel, Ruth undergoes a transformation to become a more aware, thoughtful person who thinks about things in depth. She is constantly trying to fit in and be mature, often repudiating things from her past if she perceives that it won't look cool. Thus she threw away her entire collection of art by fellow students, despite it being her prize possession, because she sensed that the older kids at The Cottages looked down on it. She becomes an adult who is not happy with her life. Ruth eventually gives up on all of her hopes and dreams and tries to help Kathy and Tommy have a better life.
  • Madame, a woman who visits Hailsham to pick up the children's artwork, is a mystery to the children. She seems distant and forbidding. When the children decide to play a prank on her and swarm around her to see what she will do, they are shocked to discover that she seems disgusted by them. Madame is a character who acts very professional and stern.
  • Miss Emily, headmistress of Hailsham, can be very sharp according to Kathy. The children thought she had an extra sense in that they thought she was able to know where a child was if he or she was hiding.
  • Miss Lucy, another teacher at Hailsham, is a teacher that the children feel comfortable talking to. She is one of the younger teachers at Hailsham, and tells the students very frankly that they exist only for organ donation. She feels a lot of stress at being at Hailsham, and leaves after a few years.


Reviewers commented on the genre of the novel. The New York Times book reviewer Sarah Kerr wondered why Ishiguro would write in the "pop genre—sci-fi thriller." She hinted it may be "in order to quietly upend [the genre's] banal conventions."[2] Joseph O'Neill from The Atlantic suggested that the novel successfully fits into the coming of age genre. O'Neill wrote that "Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful, and their hesitant progression into knowledge of their plight is an extreme and heartbreaking version of the exodus of all children from the innocence in which the benevolent but fraudulent adult world conspires to place them."[3]


  1. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. 16 October 2005.,24459,never_let_me_go,00.html. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Kerr, Sarah (17 April 2005). "'Never Let Me Go': When They Were Orphans". New York Times (New York). Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  3. ^ O'Neill, Joseph (May 2005). "Never Let Me Go". The Atlantic: pp. 123. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 

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