I first read this for my year 11 GCSE; upon reflection after reading it again some years later, it has made me realise I didn’t quite appreciate (nor understand) what author Kazuo Ishiguro was portraying as a thought-provoking take on humanity in dystopian England. It could be argued to be science-fiction, yet characters are still portrayed as human – there are no aliens or mad science as is normally associated with sci-fi. It is in fact a tale of love, belonging and dystopian sci-fi, with an underlying question of whether such a situation could happen in future.
Set between the 1970s and 80s, there has been a breakthrough in Science, where humankind are able to live longer thanks to the ‘clone operation’.
The novel follows Kathy H., Tommy D. and Ruth, students of Hailsham, a school for children who are unaware of what they are being raised for; a humane upbringing with the inevitable pigs for slaughter situation. It is from Kathy’s perspective, where she looks back at her life in three main parts:
An innocent student at a school with no mention of parents, holidays or outside world: Kathy describes the small things she experienced at Hailsham. The students are encouraged to create artwork which is collected by the likes of Miss Emily and Miss Lucy, who are key maternal figures for the students.
Kathy grows close to Ruth, who soon reveals her manipulative side which Kathy couldn’t quite see through. Then there’s Tommy, known for his tantrums but kind heart. The students receive ‘tokens’ as a form of pocket money, going crazy over pointless crap in the ‘sale’ which means everything to them, where Kathy comes across a Judy Bridgewater tape of Never Let Me Go, where the tearful Madame witnesses her listening to the track intently.
Despite their innocence, Miss Lucy fails to fight her discomfort and reveals the students’ true purpose: they have been created and raised to solely donate their vital organs, upon which their lives will be ‘complete’.
This is also where Kathy sadly learns of Tommy and Ruth’s romance – more to come…
After their time at Hailsham, the three manage to move to the countryside together where they are to wait out their first calls for donations. They meet residents Rodney and Chrissie, where we learn the idea of ‘possibles’; the clones’ original, where Rodney believes he has seen Ruth’s in Norfolk.
Norfolk is seen as the forgotten part of England, where there are no major roads going directly to it, merely as a place for tired things. The 5 of them head there and are disappointed when they appear not to find Ruth’s possible, who erupts and exclaims they are all modelled from ‘trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps’which they don’t want to be true, but maybe she is the smartest to acknowledge it.
Ruth’s snide attitude continues as she tells Kathy that Tommy will be never interested in her, especially after the emergence of a rumour that couples can get a deferral from donating.
Kathy as a carer
After Ruth’s cruel words, we move to her becoming a carer. She learns that Ruth and Tommy parted (so much for couple staying together for a deferral), where she soon comes across her again – only she is far weaker. Even though Kathy has the chance for revenge, her kindness prevails as she becomes Ruth’s carer and they manage to track Tommy down too.
On a trip together, Ruth admits she kept the pair of them apart (mainly because of the deferrals) before giving them Madame’s address.
Shortly after Ruth’s completion, Kathy and Tommy manage to admit their feelings before heading to Madame. In the presence of Miss Emily, they learn the true meaning of the clone programme and how Hailsham was built as a humane way:
to raise them and find out if they had souls at all.
The story is bleak. Moving, but bleak, as the reader learns they will inevitably die. It makes one question if such a thing could actually happen in future. What a way to question humanity and ethics…
I can understand why some people would dislike the book as it can be slow and full of pointless anecdotes, yet I have come to have a more appreciative view on a second read, with a more mature head.