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Never Let Me Go
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June 2018 > Never Let Me Go

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Kath | 206 comments Mod
Good morning and welcome to our last discussion of the semester!
For those of you who have read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, below are a few topics to get us started:

1) Before reading the book did you have any idea of the plot? Or purpose of the “students”?

2) How did you feel about Madame’s and Miss Emily’s methods of raising the children at Hailsham? Kind? Dishonest? Protective? Do you think it helped or hurt the students?

3) I felt the narration of Kathy and the discussions among the students seem so dispassionate about their fates. Why do you think they were so docile and resigned to their futures? Why didn’t anyone try to escape his or her dictated future and live as a typical human?

4) From an external discussion list: Regarding human cloning: what kind of moral and emotional responses does this story provoke?


Ellen | 225 comments I did not have any idea about the plot when I started reading, so I found it a bit confusing. I think the narrator identified herself as a "carer" right away, so I think I looked at the dust jacket description.

Your question #3 is interesting, Kath. I hadn't really considered that. Though a big issue is made about Tommy's anger issues and how he lashes out. It's a wonder they're not all lashing out all the time. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that they know as children and grow with the idea of their "purpose" in life?

And then there is the issue of their pretty total isolation at Hailsham. They don't know much about the outside world and so wouldn't be able to figure out where to go if they did escape. Not to mention that it seems typical humans are repelled by them, like Madame.

This book engaged me, while at the same time horrifying me at the underlying social concept. I thought it was well done and it made me think.


Kath | 206 comments Mod
I think you are right, Ellen, that they grow up knowing their purpose and maybe it doesn't occur to them that there would be other options. Although Ruth obviously yearns for something in the way she wants to pursue her "possible"... I do think you are right that their isolation (and maybe selective education?) would make it difficult for them to break out.

Because they are genetically engineered, I kept wondering if they were tinkered with in other ways; like, even though Kathy would report situations and interactions where emotions were at play (like Tommy's temper or Ruth and Kathy getting snappish) it was just reported with so little emotion. And did Madame recoil only because she was familiar with who they were or were there other identifiers that made them stand out?

I did feel sucked in right away and it was interesting to consider.
I didn't know the plot beforehand but had a vague recollection that it was sci-fi-ish from when the movie version came out several years ago. I never saw it but was initially thinking they were robotic.


Ellen | 225 comments I had to stop and try to remember. There is no hint that they are drugged in any way is there? I don't think so and the guardians seem to try to keep them very healthy through exercise and no smoking.

There is the fact that Kathy is telling this story when she is a carer, and therefore older. And she definitely is getting beaten down through her work. Maybe that is what accounts for the dispassionate way the story is told.

And is there a sense that the kids at Hailsham somehow know they have it better than most of their counterparts who do not have it so nice at a school like theirs? Or did I imagine that ?


Kath | 206 comments Mod
No, I think you're right, that they all (students inside and outside Hailsham) think the Hailsham kids had it better. You are also right that the guardians make health a priority -- I kind of forgot that. It must just come down to the conditioning (and the distance of time) that they are so passive about their path. Kinda chilling.


Kath | 206 comments Mod
I was rather torn about the Hailsham philosophy and deception. Did the students really have it better by thinking their works were going into a gallery (and the false hope it provided for a future deferral) or was it just to comfort the guardians that they were enriching the childhoods of the students before they sent them off to have their organs (?) reaped?


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments Sorry I've come to the discussion late. Kath, you've given us a lot to think about. Like Ellen, I too was confused at the beginning. I took me a while to discover that their purpose was only organ harvesting. Then later when I discovered that they were cloned....I was blown away.

It was interesting to me that Kathy was so attuned to her friends moods and body language. She knew when they were made or pulling away from her. It proved to me that although they were cloned, they were still human. As Madam collected the art to show that they had a soul, I think the fact that they could feel have them that too. It seemed as if the guardians, with the exception of Miss Emily, forgot that or didn't see that.

Their isolation from the "real world" and real interactions with people unlike themselves served to keep them from the realization that there was another path they could take. I sometimes wondered what happened if they just left and tried to blend in with everyone else. I don't think they ever realized that there could be another way to live until it was too late. It was horrifying that some hastened to the donor process because they just didn't want to be a carer anymore. Was Kathy better off because she was able to do it for so long? How sad, their lives were so short and although they thought they had a wonderful childhood, they didn't know what it could be.


Ellen | 225 comments That's an excellent observation, Marlies, about the contrast between their sort of idyllic childhood and their ghastly future as an adult.

I think being a carer was very difficult in many ways, especially depending on the person's nature. Kathy's ability to tune in to the moods and feelings of those around her probably made her well-suited to it.

I have a stupid question about "completion." At first I thought it meant death. But then I started to wonder if it meant brain-dead, but on a machine to preserve your remaining organs? Thoughts?


message 9: by Kath (last edited Jun 27, 2018 11:05AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kath | 206 comments Mod
Marlies, I had the same ambivalence about Kathy living longer because she was so good at caring; better off or worse because you are constantly losing people? And is that life so satisfying that you'd want to live longer?

And, Ellen, I think Ishiguro was intentionally vague about completion. I also assumed death at first but then there was some comment somewhere (that I can no longer find) that alluded that maybe it wasn't the end -- then I started to imagine something like that 70's movie Coma where people were alive/brain dead and harvested for their organs. Super unsettling.


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments You guys are so funny. I never thought of completion as anything but dead but Kath, you are right, there was that comment at the end about the coma. But if I remember correctly, there was a difference between completion and a coma. I think I remember someone, maybe Tommy, commenting that he would rather have completion than the coma or something to that effect. I thought it was pretty gruesome that they at most went through 4 operations for harvesting. At least I think they said that it was the most everyone went through. Then I wondered what order the organs were harvested in. They had to make sure that they didn't harvest something vital to life.


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments I had another thought about the cloning. In today's society we have children that sometimes start in a test tube. They are looked at as regular human beings and nothing is said. For these kids, how were they cloned? Does anyone remember what time period this book was supposed to have taken place. At first I thought that it was supposed to be in the 90's but then that technology wouldn't have been so advanced.

Another thought is how could the general public let that happen? I'm sure it wasn't a secret since people avoided these students. Just some food for thought


Ellen | 225 comments I think Kathy was an adult writing it in the 1990s, so her birth had been what, 25-30 years before that? But it is sci-fi, so the technology wouldn't have to exist already.

That is a good question, Marlies, about the order of the organ harvesting surgeries. I hadn't thought of that, but now am totally hung up on it. I remember the characters mentioning how sad it was when the donor's 1st or 2nd surgery didn't go well.

The whole infrastructure to manage this is mind-boggling to me. Producing the clone children; warehousing them until they grew up (because a nice school like Hailsham was the exception); changing their housing at about college age; managing the carers; managing the donors many surgeries and recoveries. Not to mention the people on the other side receiving the organs. Unbelievable.

I think the matter-of-fact way this story was told is what makes it even horrifying in some ways to me.


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments Ellen now you have me thinking about the whole infrastructure. Who were the people who managed this? scheduled the surgeries and were the surgeries done in a regular hospital? did the other patients not know about it? I guess that could be a whole other book.

Sci-fi isn't always my thing, so I sometimes get hung up on past time periods where the technology isn't as advanced.


message 14: by Kath (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kath | 206 comments Mod
I was also preoccupied about the which organs and when are they taken (lung? piece of liver? kidney?). And I imagine four was the most you could give before you can no longer support your own life; do they take hearts at the end? Or if they keep them alive, do they get to taking eyes/corneas? skin? Ugh, just typing it is so creepy.

You are right, Ellen, the infrastructure is mind-boggling; I was more focused on the donor end but I think the puppet masters behind this must have been pretty much all of society to have it so institutionalized. Chilling.

And I think test tube babies were not actually clones but rather in vitro fertilization outside a womb. So, still combining egg/sperm instead of making a carbon copy of someone. However, I read somewhere that Barbra Streisand has actually had her dogs cloned! Slippery slope and very creepy to me.


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments This really is a slippery slope! There are so may issues surrounding cloning like, could you request a clone if you were diagnosed as a child with an illness that would get progressively worse so you could wait for a donor, perhaps like childhood diabetes. And if you are able to get donors easily would that make people less conscious of living a healthy lifestyle? Take more risks? I guess the possibilities are endless.


message 16: by Kath (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kath | 206 comments Mod
These clones are fully human; there's no way they should be considered just a sack of organs waiting for their purpose. Let's hope society doesn't move past animals (already a little dodgy) and is able to pursue the stem cell research route without moving to human cloning (though I admit my knowledge on that is minimal).

Slight segue, but wasn't there a Jodi Picoult book with a similar theme where a family had a sick child and had another child in hopes the new child would donate an organ? I never read it but now might be interested.


Ellen | 225 comments Yes, I think you're right. But the Picoult title escapes me and I did not read it.


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments The book was My Sister's Keeper and it was wonderful. The family had another child with hopes that the child could be the donor (bone marrow?) for the older sibling. When that "donor" becomes old enough to make her own decisions....what will she do. If you haven't read it, I truly recommend it.


Ellen | 225 comments Thanks Marlies! I'll check it out of the library.


message 20: by Kath (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kath | 206 comments Mod
Thanks, Marlies!


Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments Kath - I just want to thank you and Ellen for keeping this going. I have read a few books that I would never have if I had to pick them. Although there aren't many of us who respond, the comments are always interesting. Have a great summer


Ellen | 225 comments Kath -- I too am grateful that you facilitate this group for us, even though we don't always get a ton of participation.


message 23: by Kath (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kath | 206 comments Mod
Thanks, you two -- it is a bit of a bummer that more people aren't participating. I'm going to send out a survey next week to see if we can get people involved a bit more. Maybe have a few in person meetings during the year or do some zoom meeting type stuff. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Thanks to you both for being so active in the group -- just like Marlies, I read things that would not have been on my radar otherwise! :)


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