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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.” ~ Miss Emily

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is about the bond between three friends, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, students at an isolated English boarding school, as they try to make sense and come to terms with their shared destiny. The novel is told through the reminisces of the now 31-year old Kathy.

From the Publisher

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.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. Knopf

Book Club Ideas


Hailsham pendant, Tommy’s sports jersey, and Kathy’s cassette tape.

I searched all over for Ruth’s shiny, deep tan pencil case with red polka dots, but couldn’t locate it.  Perhaps it can be found in Norfolk.English Flower Vase


Kathy’s cassette tape, Songs After Dark by blues singer Judy Bridgewater, is a fictional work by a fictional singer, however, Never Let Me Go, the song Kathy played over and over and over again, is not.  I sought out some mournful jazz tunes and found real-life singer Barbara Morrison.   Listen to  Barbara Morrison’s haunting rendition of Never Let Me Go available on Amazon.

There is also a movie soundtrack for Never Let Me Go.

Book Club Menu

The boarding school, Hailsham, is central to the story Never Let Me Go, so a spruced up cafeteria menu would be fun.   Even though Hailsham is an English boarding school and not an American boarding school, I just had to include my favorite American school cafeteria meal.   Hamburgers!  My grade school cafeteria served hamburgers the first Wednesday of every month.

A nice hamburger bar with all the works.  In addition to the basic condiments, be sure to include such items as dijon mustard, horseradish, red leaf lettuce, beef steak tomato slices, red onions, grilled white or yellow onions, pickles spears, jalapenos slices, grilled mushrooms, bacon strips, cheese slices, fries, and whatever else grabs your fancy.

The guests can grab a Retro School Lunch Cafeteria-Style Lunch tray and build their own Gourmet Hamburgers served on homemade Hamburger buns with Sweet Potato Fries and School Lunch Cookies for dessert.  I’m not too keen on serving milk in cartons, but OJ in cartons, with a bit of champagne added, goes over very well!

Book Club Resources

Ratings and Reviews

My Rating:  4 stars  Never Let Me Go remains disturbing, thought provoking, and haunting, long after the final page is turned.

  • The London Times Review “…A clear frontrunner to be the year’s most extraordinary novel.” —Peter KempReviews
  • Time Magazine Review”… the book is a page turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish.” —Lev Grossman
  • Publisher’s Weekly . . . “An epic ethical horror story, told in devastatingly poignant miniature. . . .”
  • Reviews ” …only after closing the book do you absorb the magnitude of what his characters endure.”–Regina Marler
  • New York Times Review “…The voice he’s written for Kathy H. is a feat of imaginative sympathy and technique. He works out intricate ways of showing her naïvete, her liabilities as an interpreter of what she sees, but also her deductive smarts, her sensitivity to pain and her need for affection. She has a capacity to grow and love that is heroic under the circumstances.” —Sarah Kerr


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is the type of novel that provokes strong emotion and much discussion on ethics, morality, and quality of life. And the questions abound! Here’s a few just to start things rolling:

  1. Why were Kathy, Tommy, Ruth, and the others accepting of the plan laid out for them?
  2. What was behind the motivation of the adults at Hailsham for the students to excel and develop their creativity, to be “educated and cultured?”
  3. How did you react when finally understanding what was going on with the Hailsham students?
  4. How did the closing paragraph make you feel? (I was especially moved by it.)
  5. Discuss the dynamics of the characters’ relationships with each other, Kathy and Tommy, Kathy and Ruth, Ruth and Tommy, and between the Hailsham students and the adults in their lives.

The Author and Awards

Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro discusses Never Let Me Go (2005).

An interesting perspective from Mr. Ishiguro (1.42 minutes) …

List of Awards for “Never Let Me Go

  • 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.
  • It also received an ALA Alex Award in 2006.

The next Kazuo Ishiguro novel I want to read is The Remains of the Day.

The Remains of the Day

Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…

I found particularly poignant the scene in which Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, now young adults, go in search of the fisherman’s boat.  Their desire to see the old beached boat which they heard so much about within their small circle, but which we would likely consider trivial and hardly give a second thought, stresses the bounds and limits of their world.   When I imagine the scene of the old fisherman’s boat, I am reminded of the boat paintings by English child prodigy Kieron Williamson.   I find his work so beautiful.  I included a photo of Low Tide at Mortson.

Low Tide at Morston

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