NOTE: If you are consulting this page because you want to know the differences between the book vs. the movie then contact me offline. I will tell you for a nominal fee.
Never Let Me Go is the name of a dystopian science fiction novel and movie in the Young Adult genre. It was written in 2005 by Japanese born, British author, Kazuo Ishiguro, and published by the UK’s Faber & Faber, the same house that also published The Republic of Trees. The plot focuses on three protagonists and follows them through their various life stages as they move from childhood through adult.
The story opens with the children -Ruth, Kathy and Tommy- at their school. At first glance, Hailsham seems to be just like any other English boarding school, and, the children seem to be just like any other children their own age. Tommy is introduced as a young boy with emotional issues. He is often bullied by other boys seeking to get a rise out of him. Ruth is characterized as a very bossy kind of personality who is hopeful for a bright future for herself. Kathy is the narrator of the story. She is kind and loving and tends to stand up for those too weak to fight for themselves. Kathy and Tommy become her closest friends and confidants.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the teachers at Hailsham are not the usual, run-of-the-mill kind, and, Hailsham is not a typical boarding school. In time, the reader is subtly made aware of the children’s true purpose. Miss Lucy is a young teacher and the only “guardian” that the students feel comfortable with. She informs them during a frank discussion in class one day that the children are clones created to provide organs for non-clones (“Originals.”) They will eventually become adults, move out of Hailsham to live in government-owned residential complexes, and, then will begin donating organs as they are needed by originals. By the fourth donation, the children will “complete” the purpose they were created for. Miss Lucy is terminated for her temerity, but the children do not seem to register any particular distress at having discovered their fate. They are, in fact, mostly resigned to it.
While the students are not taught any marketable skill sets, they are, however, encouraged by the guardians to create various forms of art and poetry. The artwork is then judged by a woman known only as “Madame,” who then keeps all the best pieces. The children speculate that Madame keeps their work in a secret gallery of sorts which provides rich fodder for rumors amoung the students, especially Tommy. As they mature, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy develop close ties with each other, with Ruth and Tommy eventually pairing off as a couple, and, Kathy content to be a friend to both of them despite her growing feelings for Tommy.
When Ruth, Tommy and Kathy reach age eighteen, they move out of Hailsham to the Cottages. They meet up with other clones that came from other schools not as privileged as Hailsham. The Cottages are described as cold and in squalid condition, and otherwise not as comfortable as Hailsham was. Save for a lone groundskeeper, the clones have no contact with anyone in the outside world. They have nothing to do except attend to their own whims, each exploring his own sexuality while waiting for the call for their first donation to come.
As time passes, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy are informed by two of their housemates of a rumor that Hailsham students may be permitted to “defer” becoming donors for up to three years if they have truly fallen in love. Despite not ever having been any good with art, this rumor plays directly into Tommy’s theory that the artwork Madame had been collecting from them when they were children was designed to be a kind of lie detector test, to determine who was being honest about his true feelings as revealed through his art. Tommy then begins to secretly perfect his drawings in the hopes that he can submit them to Madame for consideration for a deferral.
The same housemates who spoke of the deferment rumor also tell Ruth that the original she was cloned from may be living in Norfolk since they saw a woman there in a shop whom Ruth closely resembles. The five of them then decide to take a road trip to the town so that Ruth could check out her original, and also, so that Kathy could try to locate another copy of a tape cassette she had favored as a child but had since lost.
When the clones arrive in Norfolk, they locate Ruth’s supposed original, but upon spying her through a shop glass window, Ruth’s physical differences become immediately obvious to her. Her frustration with not having found her original results in an emotional outburst during which she says that clones are from the human “trash” of society –the dregs that live in homeless shelters and the mentally ill found passed out in gutters and such. Ruth’s distress serves as the catalyst for Kathy to request early departure from the Cottages so that she may become a “carer,” a clone who attends to other clones recovering from organ removal surgery.
In the last third of the book, Kathy has been a carer for about a decade when she runs into an old acquaintance who tells her that Hailsham has closed recently, and, also that Ruth is on her first donation, which hasn’t gone very well. Kathy then goes to see Ruth for the first time in years and begins caring for her. Ruth knows that her next donation will likely be her last since her health has deteriorated and so she suggests to Kathy that the three of them, including Tommy, take a road trip for old time’s sake to see an abandoned ship in the middle of a marsh.
During this trip, Ruth admits to Kathy and Tommy that she deliberately manipulated Tommy so that he would not seek to explore a relationship with Kathy despite sensing their bond. She then hands them a slip of paper with an address on it that belongs to Madame, and encourages them to find her to ask for a deferment together since they are in love. Ruth dies shortly after her second donation and then Kathy becomes Tommy’s carer. She also begins a romantic relationship with him, encouraged by Ruth’s last wish that they find Madame and ask for a deferment.
By Tommy’s third donation, the two eventually decide to visit Madame to test the rumor to see if they can defer his fourth and probably last donation. Tommy then selects his best sketches to bring along to be submitted as proof of his feelings for Kathy. But when they locate Madame, they also find Miss Emily, Hailsham’s former headmistress at her residence as well. The two reveal to Tommy and Kathy that Hailsham was an experiment to improve the living conditions for clones and otherwise change societal attitudes towards them. Before Hailsham, society at large had been content to view clones as non-human sources of organs. The collecting of the artwork was meant to prove to government talking heads that the clones were not soul-less, but every bit as human as the originals taking their organs.
[ Final scene withheld so as not to spoil it for those who wish to read the book or watch the movie. ]
All in all, I found Never Let Me Go to be a poignant red flag of the direction civilization is likely to take once cloning technology has been perfected sufficient to grow bodies for spare parts independent of a woman’s uterus.
Demand for organ donation continues to outstrip supply exponentially. The following titles are eye-opening, great reads if you want to expand your knowledge of organ harvesting and the great fortunes made by surgeons, hospitals, and other purveyors of body parts for transplant purposes. Such information will make you strongly reconsider affixing that little donor sticker to the back of your driver’s license.
Carney, Scott. Red Market
Cheney, Anne. Body Brokers: Inside America’s Underground Trade in Human Remains
Milliman Research Report. 2010 U.S. Organ and Tissue Transplant Cost Estimates and Discussion
Sharp, Leslie. Strange Harvest
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