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... read more
Warning: contains spoilers.
The novel is narrated by 31 year-old Kathy H. as she reminisces about her childhood at the sheltered boarding school Hailsham, as well as her adult life after leaving the school. The story takes place in a dystopian Britain, in which human beings are cloned to... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Warning: contains spoilers.
The novel is narrated by 31 year-old Kathy H. as she reminisces about her childhood at the sheltered boarding school Hailsham, as well as her adult life after leaving the school. The story takes place in a dystopian Britain, in which human beings are cloned to provide donor organs for transplants. Kathy and her classmates have been created to be donors, though the adult Kathy is temporarily working as a "carer," someone who supports and comforts donors as they are made to give up their organs and, eventually, submit to death. As in Ishiguro’s other works, the truth of the matter is made clear only gradually, via veiled but suggestive language and situations.
The novel is divided in three parts, chronicling the three phases of the lives of its main characters.
The first part is set at Hailsham, a boarding school where the children are brought up and educated. The teachers there mysteriously encourage the students to produce various forms of art. The best works are chosen by a woman known only as Madame and are said to be collected in a gallery. It is seen that Hailsham is not a normal school by the odd way the teachers or "guardians" treat them, the emphasis on keeping healthy and the fences and boundaries that separate the school from its rural surroundings.
While the students of Hailsham are often cliquish and capricious, the three main characters — Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy — develop a close friendship during this time. Kathy herself seems to have resigned herself to being an observer of other people, and the choices they make, instead of making her own choices. She often takes the role of the peacemaker in the clique, especially between off-again-on-again couple Tommy and Ruth. Tommy is an isolated boy who struggles creatively and is often the target of bullies, while Ruth is an extrovert with strong opinions.
In the second part, the characters, now young adults, move to the "Cottages", residential complexes where they start to have contacts with the external world and they are relatively free to do what they want. A romantic relationship develops between Ruth and Tommy, while Kathy explores her sexuality but without forming any stable relationships. Upon hearing about a discovery made by one of the veterans of the Cottages, the characters travel to Norfolk where they are told by two veterans of the Cottages that Hailsham students could be allowed to "defer" the time at which they could start their donations by proving they had truly fallen in love. Tension between Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy rises as they all struggle to find acceptance and understanding outside Hailsham, inevitably leading to Kathy's departure from the cottages to become a carer.
The third part describes Tommy's and Ruth's becoming donors and Kathy's becoming a carer. Kathy cares for Ruth and then, after Ruth "completes" (Ishiguro's evocative euphemism for death), Kathy takes care of Tommy. Before her death, Ruth expresses regret over coming between Kathy and Tommy, and urges them to pursue a relationship with one another, and to seek to defer their donations based on their love. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, Kathy and Tommy visit Madame, where they also meet their old headmistress, Miss Emily. During this visit, they learn that Hailsham's emphasis on art was an attempt to prove to society that clones had souls. They also learn that deferring their donations under the foundations of true love was only a rumor that has continued to persist for many years and nothing more. The clones learn that Hailsham in general was an experiment, an effort to improve the conditions for clones and perhaps alter the attitudes of society, which prefers to view the clones merely as non-human sources of organs. The novel ends, after the death of Tommy, on a note of resignation as Kathy accepts her own inevitable fate as a donor and her eventual "completion."
“And I can still see it now, the shudder she seemed to be suppressing, the real dread that one of us would accidentally brush against her. And though we just kept on walking, we all felt it; it was like we'd from the sun right into chilly shade.”Kathy H.
“Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.” So you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you—of how you were brought into this world and why—and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.”Kathy H.
“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”Kathy H.
“...being dependent on each other to produce the stuff that might become your private treasures—that’s bound to do things to your relationships.”Kathy H.
“When we lost something precious, and we’d looked and looked and still couldn’t find it, then we didn’t have to be completely heartbroken. We still had that last bit of comfort, thinking one day, when we were grown up, and we were free to travel around the country, we could always go and find it again in Norfolk.”Kathy H.
“I’ve grown up a bit, I suppose. And maybe everyone else has too. Can’t keep on with the same stuff all the time. Gets boring.”Tommy D.
“They won’t make it easy for you, but if you want to, really want to, you might find out.”Miss Lucy
“And if these incidents now seem full of significance and all of a piece, it's probably because I'm looking at them in the light of what came later...”
“And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind of world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw. It wasn't really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I've never forgotten.”
“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too stronge. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how I think it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all out lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”Tommy D.
This novel evolves slowly and is very nuanced. The subject matter is somewhat grim and shocking, but nothing is spelled out or obvious--which could possibly be confusing. However, there is no violence, but there is sex. Recommended for 17+
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