Never Let Me Go Summary

Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go Summary

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Set in an alternate version of England in the 1990s, Never Let Me Go is a 2005 novel written by the critically acclaimed British author Kazuo Ishiguro, who also penned the award-winning Remains of the Day. Generally, Never Let Me Go is considered a dystopian science fiction novel, but many also place it in the coming-of-age and horror genres.

The story, which touches on themes such as conformity, free will, and what it means to be human, is told in first-person point of view by narrator and central character, Kathy H. She begins by telling readers she is 31 years old and has been a “carer,” a type of nurse and companion for “donors,” for eleven years. She is proud of the fact that she’s good enough at her work to be given the privilege of choosing who she cares for. At first, the realities of Kathy’s job are left vague; however, bit-by-bit the puzzle pieces fall into place as Kathy’s story unfolds through reminisces about her time at Hailsham, an elite boarding school.

At Hailsham, Kathy becomes friends with Tommy, a boy often bullied and prone to tantrums, and Ruth, a manipulative girl prone to telling lies. Despite this, they are good friends, although Kathy’s friendship with Ruth is often rocky. However, when Kathy loses her favorite cassette tape with the song, “Never Let Me Go,” Ruth tries to help her find it. When that fails, she replaces it with another. The story continues with many strange and mysterious anecdotes of life at Hailsham. The school strongly emphasizes physical fitness, creativity, and especially, art, and a woman known as Madame regularly visits and chooses the best artwork to take away and display in a gallery off-campus.

Eventually, we learn that Kathy and the others are clones created as on-demand organ donors for their “possibles” – the original people they were cloned from. One day, Miss Lucy, who is a teacher/guardian, talks to the students about their goals and purpose in life and how tragic their lives are, to be nothing but organs for others until they eventually “complete,” a term for dying. They take the information in stride, having been raised with this purpose and having known nothing else.

Tommy and Ruth begin to date, causing jealousy in Kathy. Soon after, at age sixteen, Kathy and the others graduate and move to the Cottage, an adult residence where they have greater freedoms, including driving. Tommy and Ruth continue to date, and Kathy has some casual sexual experiences, despite still having feelings for Tommy.

One day, two older students known as veterans, Chrissie and Rodney, tell Kathy they believe they’ve seen her “possible” in Norfolk, and the five set out for the town. On the way, the veterans tell the younger students about a rumor they’ve heard where two students in love can get a deferment so they can spend time together before starting donations.

Once they are in Norfolk, the group discover that the woman the veteran’s saw isn’t actually Kathy’s “possible.” Tommy suggests he and Kathy explore second-hand stores to see if they can find a copy of her favorite cassette. They find a copy and share a moment, realizing their strong emotional connection, something Ruth eventually notices. She sets about using lies and manipulation to put a wedge between them. She tells Kathy that even if Tommy were available, he would never want to be with someone who has had casual sex. Saddened, Kathy decides to leave the Cottage and begin her training to become a carer.

After ten years of not seeing either Tommy or Ruth, Kathy learns that Ruth is not doing well after her first donation, and she decides to become her carer despite their past erratic friendship. Knowing that her next donation will likely be her last, Ruth asks Kathy to take her on a trip to see an abandoned boat in the middle of a marsh and to pick Tommy up from his care center and take him along. Kathy agrees and the three friends are reunited once more.

Ruth seems more easy-going then she was as a youth, though she is bitter about her donations, while Tommy seems much more positive about his situation, believing he has a knack for being a donor the way Kathy has a knack for being a carer. As the three friends get reacquainted on their trip, Ruth apologizes to Kathy for the way she treated her and how she manipulated her into feeling there was something wrong with her normal sexual urges. She wants to make amends for keeping Kathy and Tommy

apart when it was obvious they loved one another. Having obtained Madame’s address, Ruth gives it to her friends and encourages them to seek her out and get a deferral. Later, Ruth “completes” after donating a second time.

Kathy and Tommy begin a relationship, and she becomes his carer. Eventually they decide to seek out Madame to defer Tommy’s fourth donation. They learn, sadly, the rumor was false — there are no deferrals. Hailsham, they discover, was an experiment run by activists for the humane treatment of clones, and the creative works were meant to raise funds and prove to the public that clones have souls. Unfortunately, they ran out of funding and Hailsham was closed down. On the way back, Tommy has an emotional outburst but is able to get himself under control.

Because of his worsening condition, Tommy asks Kathy to give up her position as his carer. She sadly agrees, and they part ways as Tommy prepares for his fourth and final donation. Back to the present, Kathy is at peace knowing she will soon give her first donation, happy to be able to spend time with her memories – the only absolute she’s known in her life. After Tommy completes, Kathy travels to a field in Norfolk and imagines all the things and people she has lost from her childhood appearing to her.