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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Never Let Me Go: A Novel

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Never Let Me Go: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9781400078776
ISBN10: 1400078776
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

FOR DISCUSSION

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 to creativity?

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.]

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 16 comments:

reggie, January 25, 2013 (view all comments by reggie)
The most disturbing premise of this book is all the more significant because it is not revealed until more than half way through the book, and because it is presented with such a rational basis that the horror of the story is not immediately evident. The writing is clean and sparse, yet the author manages to convey a true sense of place throughout. A haunting book.
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Christin, August 15, 2012 (view all comments by Christin)
This is a beautiful, delicately written book. It's a really interesting, unique take on a subject thats kind of a scifi staple. The story is very un-scifi-like, in fact, so even if you don't usually care for the genre, you'll probably really enjoy this book.
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David Chachere, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by David Chachere)
I would like someday to see this book taught in our public schools, alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984 and the like. Never Let Me Go is a subtle tale of intrigue which doubles as a moral education, while eschewing easy answers and pedantics. In it, Ishiguro grapples with ideas that shall surely come to preoccupy our species in the decades to come. One of the finest books in English of this young century.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781400078776
Author:
Ishiguro, Kazuo
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Author:
Various
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Women
Subject:
England
Subject:
Psychological
Subject:
Science fiction
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Science / General
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
March 2006
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
12 x 9 x 5 in 9.8031 lb

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Never Let Me Go: A Novel Used Trade Paper
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Product details 304 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9781400078776 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Set in a (barely?) alternate England in the late 1990s, Never Let Me Go is the sum of Kathy's memories. Kathy is one of many "donors" who have been brought into being for purposes that, while well-intended, can come to no good. Ishiguro's novel touches on the issues surrounding human cloning and identity and "what if." Then again, human clones are nothing new. Know any identical twins? They may be clones of one another, but that doesn't preclude them from having discrete selves. Never Let Me Go doesn't put science on trial; rather, it takes humans to task on the willful, too-prevalent misuse and misunderstanding of science to further parochial, sad ends.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Ishiguro's prose has never failed to dazzle me, and this novel is certainly no exception. With a near stillness, a quiet passivity, Ishiguro's narrator tells the story of her and her two friends' eerie predestined fate; a fate that echoes throughout novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. What is revealed here is an important, wistful meditation on life and society. His books are marvels — astonishing works of art.

"Staff Pick" by ,

This is the kind of book that captures you so completely you find yourself reading it at work with the book covering your keyboard, hoping no one notices but also not really caring if you get fired. It's a subtle sci-fi story about youth, freedom, and a lot of other good stuff — too much more about the plot might take something away from the magical, transformative experience of reading it. Instead, I will say that the honest way Never Let Me Go deals with love and disappointment makes it a book that anyone who ever plans to love another person should probably read immediately.

"Review A Day" by , "Never Let Me Go is a fantasy so mundanely told, so excruciatingly ordinary in transit, its fantastic elements so smothered in the loam of the banal and so deliberately grounded, that the effect is not just of fantasy made credible or lifelike, but of the real invading fantasy, bursting into its eccentricity and claiming it as normal. Given that Ishiguro's new novel is explicitly about cloning, that it is, in effect, a science fiction set in the present day, and that the odds against success in this mode are bullyingly stacked, his success in writing a novel that is at once speculative, experimental, and humanly moving is almost miraculous." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review A Day" by , "The beauty in this novel must be carefully distinguished from its power to distress. Ultimately, there is a connection: the depth and quality of the relationships between Kath, Tommy and Ruth certainly accentuate the cruelty of their deaths. From under the shadow of their fate, Ishiguro draws warmly compelling vignettes of love and friendship that cumulatively establish an urgent and engrossing narrative pace." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement)
"Review A Day" by , "Suffice it to say that Ishiguro serves up the saddest, most persuasive science fiction you'll read....With its fantastic, inky bleakness, Never Let Me Go itself mutates the meaning of 'Ishiguroish,' or 'Ishiguroesque,' or whatever epithet sticks to this wonderful writer." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review" by , "Perfect pacing and infinite subtlety.... A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience. Send a copy to the Swedish Academy."
"Review" by , "Ishiguro's elegant prose and masterly ways with characterization make for a lovely tale of memory, self-understanding, and love."
"Review" by , "In this luminous offering, [Ishiguro] nimbly navigates the landscape of emotion — the inevitable link between present and past and the fine line between compassion and cruelty, pleasure and pain."
"Review" by , "A page turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish.”
"Review" by , “A Gothic tour de force....A tight, deftly controlled story....Just as accomplished [as The Remains of the Day] and, in a very different way, just as melancholy and alarming.”
"Review" by , "Elegaic, deceptively lovely....As always, Ishiguro pulls you under."
"Review" by , “Superbly unsettling, impeccably controlled....The book’s irresistible power comes from Ishiguro’s matchless ability to expose its dark heart in careful increments.”
"Synopsis" by , From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day

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