Never Let Me Go (novel)

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For the film adaptation of the book, see Never Let Me Go (2010 film). For the other uses, see Never Let Me Go (disambiguation).
Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go.jpg
First-edition cover of the British publication
Author Kazuo Ishiguro
Cover artist Aaron Wilner
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Dystopian science fiction, speculative fiction
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 288
ISBN 1-4000-4339-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 56058300
823/.914 22
LC Class PR6059.S5 N48 2005
Preceded by When We Were Orphans
Followed by Nocturnes

Never Let Me Go is a 2005 dystopian science fiction novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (an award Ishiguro had previously won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day), for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. Time magazine named it the best novel of 2005 and included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1] It also received an ALA Alex Award in 2006. A film adaptation directed by Mark Romanek was released in 2010; a Japanese television drama aired in 2016.[2]


The story begins with Kathy, a carer, talking about looking after donors. She has been a carer for almost twelve years at the time of narration, and she often reminisces about her time spent at Hailsham, a fictional boarding school in England, where the teachers are known as guardians. Along with classes, they often emphasize the importance of keeping healthy to their students. For instance, smoking is considered to be taboo, almost on the level of a crime; working in the vegetable garden, however, is compulsory. The curriculum appears to be like that of any other school, but there is great encouragement for the students to produce art. The art is then displayed in an exhibition, and the best artwork is chosen by a woman known to the students as Madame. The students speculate that she keeps their work in a gallery.

The story revolves around three Hailsham students, Kathy, and two others, Ruth and Tommy, who develop a close but complicated friendship. Kathy develops a fondness for Tommy, looking after him when he is bullied and having talks with him beside the pond. However, Ruth and Tommy begin a romantic relationship during their time at the school that continues when they leave.

In an isolated incident, Miss Lucy, one of the guardians, talks to the students about their goals and their true purpose: to provide organs to others, a cycle of donations that will consume their lives. This results in Miss Lucy's removal from the school, though it causes only subtle disturbance in the students, who were raised with the notion.

At age 16, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy move to the Cottages, a poorly maintained residential complex where they begin contact with the outside world. Ruth and Tommy continue their romance, but Kathy is often the peacemaker in their tumultuous relationship. She explores her sexuality with other students but avoids long-term relationships.

During one of their trips outside, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy visit Norfolk, where two of their housemates share a rumour that Hailsham students can defer donations for three years if they have truly fallen in love. Tommy hypothesises that Madame collected their art to allow administrators to determine whether they are truly in love, via the aspects of their souls revealed through their art. He begins working on his new art in secret to convince Madame that he is truly in love.

Meanwhile, the other house mates wonder about their possibles, and Ruth in particular thinks she may have found hers. She rallies her friends to find the possible. As a result, they follow a woman whom Ruth thinks might be her possible to an art gallery, but discover that the woman bears little resemblance to Ruth.

Ruth then starts to wonder whether they are all cloned from "human trash". The former Hailsham students, and others like them, are clones of humans, created and reared to provide vital organ donations. They go through cycles of 'donations', and once their organs are harvested, they die or 'complete'. The clones appear to understand and accept this unquestioningly, and are mostly occupied with trying to live their short lives and finding ways to prolong them.

Tensions rise among Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy as they all struggle to find acceptance and understanding outside Hailsham and with each other. Kathy puts in a request to become a carer, a clone who cares for donors, and drifts away from Ruth and Tommy as she undergoes training and leaves the Cottages.

Ten years pass without Kathy seeing Ruth or Tommy. Ruth's first donation goes badly and her health deteriorates. Kathy becomes Ruth's carer, and both are aware that Ruth's next donation will likely be her last. Ruth suggests that she and Kathy take a trip and bring Tommy with them. The three drive to an abandoned boat in a marshland. Ruth expresses regret and reveals she manipulated Kathy and Tommy, despite seeing that they were attracted toward each other. Attempting to make amends, Ruth hands them Madame's address, urging them to pursue a relationship and seek a deferral. Soon after, Ruth makes her second donation and completes.

Kathy becomes Tommy's carer and they begin a romantic relationship. Tommy selects pieces of his art to show to Madame. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, they go to Madame's address to see if they can defer Tommy's fourth donation. Tommy brings his artwork with him to support his claims that he and Kathy are truly in love. They also encounter Miss Emily, the former headmistress of Hailsham. She reveals that Hailsham was an experiment to give clones more humane treatment – to ensure that at least the first half of their short lives would be happy. The gallery was used to convey to society that clones are in fact real humans. Hailsham failed due to a scandal and a change of public opinion about clones, and was eventually closed down. Miss Emily tells them there are no deferrals.

Tommy confronts Kathy about her work as a carer and she resigns from being Tommy's carer. After Tommy dies, Kathy seeks a quiet life, feeling she will always cherish the memories of Hailsham.


The novel's title comes from a song on a cassette tape called Songs After Dark, by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater.[3] Kathy bought the tape during a swap meet-type event at Hailsham, which she often used to sing to and dance to the chorus: "Baby, never let me go." On one occasion, while dancing and singing, she notices Madame watching her and crying. Madame explains the encounter when they meet during Kathy's time as a carer. The tape was then lost somehow and Tommy bought her another copy while they were in Norfolk looking for Ruth's "possible".


  • Kathy – The protagonist and narrator of the novel. A clone raised to be a donor, who are harvested for organs through a series of donations. During her childhood, Kathy is free-spirited, kind, loving, and stands up for what is right. At the end of the novel, Kathy is a young woman who doesn't show much emotion when looking back on her past. As an adult, she criticises people less and is accepting of the lives of her and her friends.
  • Tommy – A male donor, and friend of Kathy's. He is introduced as an uncreative and isolated young boy at Hailsham, with a bad temper, and the subject of many tricks played on him by the other children because of his short temper. Initially, he reacts by having bad temper tantrums, until Miss Lucy, a Hailsham guardian, tells him something that, for the short term, positively changes his life: it is okay if he’s not creative. He feels great relief. Then one day, Miss Lucy tells him that she shouldn't have said what she did, and Tommy goes through another transformation. Once again upset by his lack of artistic skills, he becomes a quiet and sad teenager. As he matures, Tommy becomes a young man who is generally calm and thoughtful.
  • Ruth – A female donor from Hailsham, described by Kathy as bossy. At the start of the novel, she is an extrovert with strong opinions and appears to be the center of social activity in her cohort; however, she is not as confident as the narrator initially perceived. She had hope for her future, but her hopes are crushed as she realises that she was born to be a donor and has no other future. At the Cottages, Ruth undergoes a transformation to become a more aware, thoughtful person who thinks about things in depth. She is constantly trying to fit in and be mature, repudiating things from her past if she perceives it will negatively affect her image. She threw away her entire collection of art by fellow students, once her prized possessions, because she sensed that the older kids at The Cottages looked down on it. She becomes an adult who is deeply unhappy and regretful. Ruth eventually gives up on all of her hopes and dreams, and tries to help Kathy and Tommy have a better life.
  • Madame (Marie-Claude) – A woman who visits Hailsham to pick up the children's artwork. Described as a mystery by the students at Hailsham. She acts professional and stern, and a young Kathy describes her as distant and forbidding. When the children decide to play a prank on her and swarm around her to see what she will do, they are shocked to discover that she seems disgusted by them.
  • Miss Emily – Headmistress of Hailsham, can be very sharp according to Kathy. The children thought she had an extra sense in that allowed her to know where a child was if he or she was hiding.
  • Miss Lucy – A teacher at Hailsham that the children feel comfortable with. She is one of the younger teachers at Hailsham, and tells the students very frankly that they exist only for organ donation. She feels a lot of stress while at Hailsham and is fired for what she tells the students.
  • Chrissie – Another female donor, who is slightly older than the three main characters and was with them at the Cottages. She and her boyfriend, Rodney, were the ones who found Ruth's possible, and took Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth to Norfolk. She completes before the book ends.
  • Rodney – Chrissie's boyfriend, he was the one who originally saw Ruth's possible. He and Chrissie are mentioned to have broken up before she completed.


Critics disagree over the genre of the novel. Writing for The New Yorker, Louis Menand describes the novel as "quasi-science-fiction", saying, "even after the secrets have been revealed, there are still a lot of holes in the story [...] it's because, apparently, genetic science isn’t what the book is about."[4] The New York Times book reviewer Sarah Kerr wondered why Ishiguro would write in, what she dubs, the "pop genre—sci-fi thriller", claiming the novel to "quietly upend [the genre's] banal conventions."[5] Horror author Ramsey Campbell labelled it as one of the best horror novels since 2000, a 'classic instance of a story that's horrifying, precisely because the narrator doesn’t think it is.'[6] Joseph O'Neill from The Atlantic suggested that the novel successfully fits into the coming of age genre.

O'Neill wrote that "Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful, and their hesitant progression into knowledge of their plight is an extreme and heartbreaking version of the exodus of all children from the innocence in which the benevolent but fraudulent adult world conspires to place them."[7] Theo Tait, in a review for The Telegraph, has a more general perspective of story: "Gradually, it dawns on the reader that Never Let Me Go is a parable about mortality. The horribly indoctrinated voices of the Hailsham students who tell each other pathetic little stories to ward off the grisly truth about the future – they belong to us; we've been told that we're all going to die, but we've not really understood."[8]


Mark Romanek directed a British film adaptation titled Never Let Me Go in 2010. In Japan, the Horipro agency produced a stage adaptation in 2014 called Watashi wo Hanasanaide (私を離さないで), and in 2016 under the same title TBS Television aired a television drama adaptation set in Japan starring Haruka Ayase.[9]


  1. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Never Let Me Go (2016)". MyDramaList. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  3. ^ Howell, Peter (2010-09-30). "A quest for the mystery pop singer of Never Let Me Go follows a winding path that leads to Bob Dylan, Atom Egoyan and Guy Maddin.". The Toronto Star. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  4. ^ Menand, Louis (28 March 2005). "Something About Kathy". New Yorker. New York. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Kerr, Sarah (17 April 2005). "'Never Let Me Go': When They Were Orphans". New York Times. New York. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Ramsey Campbell interviewed by David McWilliam". Gothic Imagination at the University of Stirling, Scotland. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  7. ^ O'Neill, Joseph (May 2005). "Never Let Me Go". The Atlantic. p. 123. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Tait, Theo (13 March 2005). "A sinister harvest". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  9. ^ "Never let Me Go Cast (in Japanese)". Never Let Me Go (Programme Site). Retrieved 29 January 2016.