Sunday, October 28, 2007


I recently read Never Let Me Go for the third time. Not only does the book stand up to repeated readings, it's much more artful than I had realized when I first posted about it, after I had read it for the second time. This time, I did a sort of "liveblogging": I took notes as I read, with the intent of posting them pretty much as written. In the midst of writing the post I got derailed, as tends to happen with me, so I'm going to post what I've got so far, though I do intend to finish the job.

As I wrote in the post linked to above, Never Let Me Go can be spoiled and shouldn't be, so don't read this if you haven't read the book. In any case, if you haven't read the book what follows won't mean much to you.

Here goes:

The opening seems fairly innocuous on a first reading, but its horror is apparent on rereading, when we know the meaning of euphemisms like "donation" and "carer." Two subtler points arise in Kathy's conversation with the patient near "completion." When Kathy asks him where he grew up, he mentions a "place in Dorset." (5) On first, or even second, reading I assumed that this was a bad school. This time around, I realized that it wasn't a school at all, but one of the warehouses Miss Emily refers to. (265) And when he yearns to hear about details of life at Hailsham such as the guardians, the football, the school grounds, it isn't these things were of better quality at Hailsham than in Dorset: it's because these things existed at Hailsham, whereas he had never experienced them.

In both the opening and the first scene with Tommy, we see how cruelty perpetuates itself. In the opening, we see Kathy's pride in her work as a "carer," which, while it makes the donors more comfortable, also makes the process of donation -- actually slow murder -- run more smoothly. In the scene with Tommy, the girls watching Tommy deal with their incipient guilt and discomfort over his victimization by "swapping reasons why Tommy deserved everything he got." (10)

The question of "creativity" and the huge importance attributed to it at Hailsham. Commenting on her coversation with Ruth over Christy's poetry, Kathy remarks: "maybe she could sense where my talk was heading, and didn't want to go that way." (18) I'm not sure what Kathy means here, but was her talk "heading" towards questioning the value of "creativity"? And when Tommy tells Kathy that Miss Lucy told him it was okay not to be creative, Kathy thinks Tommy is lying to her.

p. 28 Lucy was shaking with rage when she told Tommy he didn't have to be creative. Because she was angry at how the pupils are basically being treated as experimental subjects?

p. 29 What do Kathy and Tommy know about "donations" at this point? Ishiguro deliberately keeps the question of what exactly the pupils know when fuzzy until Lucy's big outburst.

p. 52 "we each played our part in preserving the fantasy [of Miss Geraldine's 'secret guard'] and making it last for as long as possible." Hailsham itself is a fantasy -- that the clones can have normal childhoods, despite having been created to have their organs harvested -- which pupils and guardians alike collaborate in preserving. This is one example of how the incidents with Ruth at Hailsham that Kathy describes are linked thematically to the book's larger questions, even though they may be irrelevant to the plot per se.

p. 55 When Moira says that there is no plot against Miss Geraldine, Kathy, was been expelled from the "secret guard" a few days ago, responds by making up "evidence" that the plot is real. Trying to explain why she did this, she writes: "Moira was suggesting she and I cross some line together, and I wasn't prepared for that yet. I think I sensed how beyond that line, there was something harder and darker and I didn't want that. Not for me, not for any of us." Again, this parallels the way the pupils in general avoid knowing too much about their fate. (In fact, Ishiguro is even a little heavy-handed here.)

p. 69 The class doesn't follow up the question on smoking because they don't want to know the truth about "donations," implying that subconsciously they already do know it (though Kathy gives a different explanation).

p. 70 I still don't get the significance of the Bridgewater song.

p. 78 From Lucy's casual remark, we can infer that other "homes" for clones are surrounded by electric fences.

So many of the incidents at Hailsham Kathy recounts revolve around telling, not telling, and/or making believe.

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