Would You Try to Escape if You Knew You'd Be Killed if You Stayed?

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

I totally bought this book because of the description:


“As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.


And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed—even comforted—by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.”


And just as totally I bought the book in spite of its rather atrocious cover. Here it is:



This woman seems to be wearing a wig. Why? And why does she sit in all this greenery? I mean, technically, yes, the author mentions shrubs and trees and whatnot around Hailsham, the house where the protagonist Kathy grows up, but they are not very important. And besides, am I imagining things or does this spot look like a Japanese garden? And could that be because the author has a Japanese name?


Anyway, the book itself is great. It’s satisfyingly complex, and Kathy is a very meticulous, logical narrator. She describes one event, and during this description she would mention another event, and then she would repeat this process, and the book goes on like knitting, one loop after another. I loved it.


I also loved how "Hailsham" is a play on "hail" and "sham" because that's what that school did: it was hailing sham.


But I did have a few problems with the book, the biggest one being that the author, in my opinion, is hiding from a huge question. So, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are clones, and they are made for one purpose only: organ harvesting. They are raised in an orphanage by a bunch of guardians who teach them everything a non-clone child would be taught. More than that, the guardians don’t hide from the kids what will become of them, but they apparently soften the specifics. Or maybe they soften some other things. I don’t know. The author only tells us that while the clones know about their organ-donating future, they are somehow also lied about it. So that they wouldn’t despair.


And all of this is good, but I wish I knew exactly what these kids were told because when later neither Kathy nor Ruth nor Tommy tries to escape from England or fight these enforced donations, I don’t believe it. Why don’t they try to escape? I know I am sort of spoiled by that movie The Island that has the same premise as Never Let Me Go: clones are made to be later cut up for organs. Well, in The Island, the protagonist, who is obviously a clone, escapes AND fights back.


However, I also understand the important difference between The Island and Never Let Me Go. In The Island, the clones spring into existence while already being adults, and in Ishiguro’s book, they start out as babies. And mind, I do believe you can brainwash kids into anything, but since Ishiguro does not tell us exactly what lies or softened truths those guardians fed to the kids, I have trouble buying that Kathy would never try to escape. She looks perfectly human; she does not seem branded on the face or anything. Ishiguro does withhold from us any info on how Kathy and her friends look, but in more than one episode, they go to a town populated by humans, and nobody points fingers at them, so they must look human enough. And while not all clones learn how to drive, Kathy does. She also has a car and knows the roads (this is specifically mentioned). Finally, as a caretaker for other clones, Kathy is required to drive long distances alone. So why doesn’t she run?