“Something no one can take away”: Possessions and Ownership in Never Let Me Go

This book reached me in a way I hadn’t expected it to when I first began reading, and I think it is a testament to how well Ishiguro crafts his alternate society that it rings of the truth of human nature and experience.  I chose to discuss the notions of possession and ownership well before I had finished the book, largely because of an early scene where a younger Kathy frets that Tommy will ruin his favorite shirt with mud during one of his tantrums.  That was the moment of the book that first resonated with me; it is a feeling I deeply understand.  It was the spark of a truth I’ve known for a long time: when one has very little, it is the little things that become precious.  It is apparently unique among Kathy’s circle—the others are concerned more with watching Tommy’s tantrums than what he would feel if he lost something precious to him.  Kathy is deeply empathetic, as we see again and again as she faces her own loss and the loss of others.  Indeed, up to and including the title, this book is very much concerned with having, owning, possessing, losing, and letting go of things as well as people.

Since the novel is structured into three parts it seems natural to structure the discussion into three parts: Hailsham, Cottages, and adulthood (although in the novel there is considerable overlap as Kathy jumps around in her memory to tell her story).  From the moment Kathy introduces herself, and begins to immediately describe the ownership of a car and a bedsit that being a carer affords her, we see that Kathy’s pride in what she owns, something that is evident even in her in childhood.  She assumes that others feel the same way about their possessions, and with Tommy that is a safe assumption, but Ruth seems to be quite different, as I will explore below.

With the Exchanges and the Sales of Kathy’s childhood, we see immediately that at Hailsham the children’s unique notion of possession is deeply ingrained within the school’s institutional processes.  The children create art, for which they are given highly-prized tokens, which they in turn exchange for art produced by other children.  This art is used to decorate their personal space, and thereby they use the creations of others to amass, as Kathy says on p. 16, “a collection of personal possessions”.  Even she can see that “being dependent on each other to produce the stuff that might become your private treasures—that’s bound to do things to your relationships” (16).  If one defines oneself through the creations of others in a never-ending cycle of production and (literal) exchanges, then one is going to be more likely to see the group itself as a part of one’s identity—and so it is with the kids at Hailsham.  This sense must only be heightened by the fact that the best of their work is unavailable to their peers, as it is taken by Madame to what even she refers to throughout the book as her gallery.  The Sales are the other manner by which the students can get personal items.  The book seems to allude that the Sales are made up largely by the donations of things people from the outside world no longer have use of; as the cliché goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

It is at a Sale at Hailsham that Kathy finds and loses her beloved tape featuring the song “Never Let Me Go”.  Whereas Kathy shows herself to be concerned with her tape, Tommy’s shirt, Ruth’s pencil box—tangible objects with ownership attachments—when Kathy’s tape goes missing we begin to see a glimpse of how Ruth sees possession of objects.  She works tirelessly to try to find the tape, even though it’s not her own.  Kathy intimates that Ruth sees the return of the tape as a way to “keep” Kathy close to her, despite a falling-out prior to the loss of the tape.  She understands that the tape is important to Kathy, but does not value possessions in the same way that Kathy does.  She finally gets a tape for Kathy, but it is not the same one, and Ruth cannot understand why it would make a difference.  For Kathy, her identity is wrapped up in the things that she owns that are special to her.  For Ruth, it is the people she can keep close to her that define who she is.  This seems unsurprising in a world where these students, viewed by society at large as throw-away people whose value is in their vital organs, are more or less considered objects themselves.  Ruth shows herself to be more possessive of people, memories, stories, and time.  She wants to be a store of knowledge, and she is most hurt when Kathy doubts or disputes the stories she tells.  Ruth doesn’t seem to be interested in the pencil box itself.  Instead, it is important to her because she is able to use it to pretend to have a relationship with the favored Miss Geraldine.  When Kathy joins in on this play with her, it seems to reinforce their friendship.  Ruth values the acceptance of others, which becomes very clear as the trio enters the Cottages.

In the Cottages, Ruth is the one who reaches out to the veterans in an attempt to create camaraderie with them.  In this way, according to Kathy, she feels that she is making a way in for the entire Hailsham group.  Ruth continues to try to connect by bringing people into her circle—Kathy continues to define herself by the things she acquired at Hailsham.  Ruth throws her “collection” of Hailsham items out, once again in an attempt to fit in with the new members of their group and increase her number of relationships.  Ruth also seems to be craving time; the whole search for her “possible” and her reflected dreams of working in an office are all markers of a desire for a future she can never have.

Kathy and Tommy, on the other hand, cling to the memory of an object, the cassette tape, so much so that they go in search of it in Norfolk, which has taken on the legend among them as being a place where lost things end up.  Yet a change seems to be evolving in Kathy, as she feels disappointment upon finding the tape.  What she valued from the excursion with Tommy was being with him, and basking in his having spent time thinking about her loss, and wanting to make it right for her.  It is this incident that reveals a love and compatibility that has grown since their childhood.  Yet Kathy departs for her career as a carer, leaving her childhood friends behind.

At the end of her life, Ruth confesses that she had known for much of her life that Kathy and Tommy were in love and were supposed to be together, but was afraid that if she didn’t conspire to keep them apart that they would leave her behind.  She begs them to seek the rumored “true love” deferment, and after her death Tommy and Kathy begin to explore the possibility.  If owning time was Ruth’s goal, it would seem she succeeded not in gaining a future but in robbing Kathy and Tommy of a life together.  To pursue that life, they go to Madame’s house, and yet again, the emphasis is on objects—those long-ago creations.  Tommy brings a sketchbook of pictures, as he feels that his and Kathy’s creations will somehow express their unique connection.  They are told that no such deferment exists by Madame and Miss Emily, but Miss Emily insists that she gave them something that could never be taken away: their childhood at Hailsham.  I would argue that, as it would seem that Ruth’s time with Tommy took away from Kathy’s time, so the hard truth of the lives of the students robbed some of the joy from their memories and from their final days (although Kathy still talks of a desire to recall those days once she becomes a donor and has time to rest).

One remark that Miss Emily makes to Tommy and Kathy in the final scenes of the novel struck me as particularly interesting, and makes for a nice conclusion.  She tells them that the world was “requiring students to donate” (p. 263), yet the statement itself is a contradiction.  Something required is not freely given without hope of recompense, as a donation is.  The students—clones—are things, objects to be owned.  They are individually precious to those to whom they belong, but are conditioned to see themselves as possessed by a larger destiny that they cannot control.  In the end, Tommy cannot give himself to Kathy, because he has already been given away.

Random Thoughts:

  • 1500 words is not enough!  I have a lot of moments that support my thoughts, including Ruth inventing a horse to bond with Kathy (p. 46), Ruth’s revelation that Keffers doesn’t pretend that her collection is special (as the system at Hailsham implied) (p. 130), Kathy’s description of the lamps in her bedsit (p. 208), and the kids at Hailsham as recalled by the clown with the balloons (p. 213).  So if you want more support of ideas, ask me!
  • It seemed to me that a lot of the language of the story was juvenile/child-like, particularly in the discussion of relationships (although I know we plan to talk sex later in the week, so NO SEX TALK—I deliberately avoided it.


Baby Friday is a part-time high school Spanish teacher and a full-time Monster.  Originally from South Carolina, she moved to Georgia a while back and has been working hard to get back to SC since then.  She uses her Masters thesis research into feminist film theory to annoy her friends, and her bottomless well of trivia to annoy anyone within earshot.  She can usually be found at home with her Monster-husband teacherman and their dogs: Girl One, Handsomedog, and Skeledog.  She is currently being ignored by her students.


  • Tomorrow, DAFS WILL BE talkin bout TIME, IN multiple ways!
  • Wednesday, ihavetoreturntovideotapes is TALKIN ABOUT something. Hasn’tEMAILED ME THE TOPIC YET, but I think WE CAN ALL AGREE, it’s probably SOMETHING!
  • Thursday, Godsauce is GONNA GET ALL sexy on us and talk ABOUT THAT SEX so earmuffs UP.
  • Finally, ON FRIDAY, I’ll (this is AN AMERICAN PATRIOT now, by the WAY) wrap THINGS up with SOME FINAL thoughts and AN OPEN forum FOR FURTHER discussion SO BE SURE to keep F5ING.
  • AS ALWAYS, those interested in WRITING FOR Bookgum should email ME AT AnAmPatriot@gmail.com

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44 Responses to “Something no one can take away”: Possessions and Ownership in Never Let Me Go

  1. sinkfloridasink says:

    Great writeup! Interesting how these people who were regarded as little more than “things” to those on the outside could grasp on so tightly to material possessions as a reflection of their self-worth. I think an argument could be made about how Kathy’s development can be traced through her relationship to both these possessions and other people: in childhood, she was most strongly attached to her collection and was a relatively late-bloomer sexually; but as she grew more mature, her relationships with other people became her primary motivator in life (Tommy, Ruth, and the others she cared for during her abnormally-long stint as a carer).

  2. lilbobbytables says:

    I likewise very much enjoyed this book (well, I presume you also enjoyed it BF, but I may be wrong! eep!). I cannot think of anything smart to say, so I will come back when the ole’ brain is working.

  3. teacherman says:

    Love the write-up (obviously). In general, I most always find works that deal intimately with “ownership” to be compelling, especially when these works move beyond items that we would conventionally consider to be possessable (in the case of this work, bodies and time). Even the word “possession” is complex insofar as it can suggest control by ownership as well as powerlessness when a body is under the command of an enthralling spirit. As you mention, Mrs. Friday, it seems the case in this book that characters reach out in desperation for something or someone that they can lay claim to, this desperation made all the more urgent by the fact that they themselves are possessed. When the donors die they are said to have “completed,” leading to the natural implication that while they are still alive, they are “incomplete.” A beautiful and tragic irony from Ishiguro that in the world of Never Let Me Go, characters only become whole when they are lost.

    • Godsauce says:


      • potatotoe says:

        Totally! Sort of like, as Baby Friday pointed out, the way that their best creative output is claimed by the outside world, like conditioning for what’s coming – they’re never going to be allowed to keep that core of themselves, but that outcome is set up like a prize.

        Kathy’s narration reminded me a lot of the main character Esther’s in Bleak House, and this may be a stretch, but here goes. With both, you get the feeling (or I did) that the narrator is so self-effacing that they’re either withholding some of their true feelings from the reader or really not aware of them, and they portray themselves as mostly reacting to the characters around them when you often wish they’d go after what you think they really want. There were also some similar themes about the cruelty and arbitrariness of some people being, basically, born condemned. But of course, Esther gets the happy version of the Dickensian ending…

        And one final thing, although total tl;dr by now – I read this recent interview with Jane Goodall right after finishing the book and they reminded me of eachother: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16conversation.html?hp

      • ali888 says:

        Ishiguro has serious practice with self-effacing characters; Stevens in Remains of the Day is a perfect example. I’d be interested to see how people who have read both this book and Remains felt about the two comparatively.

    • dr. girlfriend says:


  4. Godsauce says:

    The notion of Ruth being interested in possessing people is an intriguing one. I think that the idea that she wishes to possess memories is less compelling than the notion that she is willing to discard real memories or fabricate false ones to manipulate others into her control or possession. She was very willing to forget parts of her life with Kathy, memories that were very valuable to Kathy, and to invent falsehoods to ingratiate herself to the veterans. In effect, she has managed to steal her own time from herself as much as she stole time from the others. This theme recurs several times when games that Kathy recalls lasting for long stretches, Ruth says were only brief. Perhaps, then, Ruth’s rejection of objects is indicative of a greater rejection of real memories and the concrete reality of her life.

    It is a testament to Kathy’s capacity for empathy that she recognizes the fallibility of her own memories, giving time to expess disputes and misreadings. Still, it is in the objects that she keeps that she finds evidence of the life that she shared with her friends. Those objects keep her memories grounded in reality, and remind her of the difference between what is real and what is not. Interestingly to me, Kathy seems somewhat pliable in this regard. She plays along with Ruth’s fantasies, even becoming angry when another student points out the falsity of them. She helps Ruth save face when caught in lies. Still, she sees Ruth crossing lines and sometimes refuses to join her.

    Even more grounded is Tommy, who sometimes appears to daft to play along, but I believe is often just too honest to participate. Ironically, he is also the one who allows himself to rail mindlessly against the injustice of his plight. I think that it is interesting that Kathy’s reminder of his shirt’s personal value is the thing that calma him. It isn’t the shirt, but the shared understanding of the shirt’s emotional value. This too is what separates his attempt to find Kathy’s tape from Ruth’s. Ruth wanted to heal the rift between her and Kathy, but Tommy understood the value of the tape as memory. Interestingly, Ruth’s tape ended up being a separate valued possession, not because of its content, but because of the sentiment.

    If I wasn’t getting all sexy later, I might go on and on. Good show, Baby Friday!

    • Godsauce says:

      Sorry for typos. I promise not to do my sexy write-up on a touchscreen.

    • ali888 says:

      Hi, everyone. Just wanted to second the idea about Ruth’s manipulative character. When I was reading this, it was easy to slip into categorization mode with regard to the characters; clearly, a love triangle is initially being set up, and though Kathy isn’t completely innocent of adolescent pettiness, Ruth is often painted as a calculating, somewhat toxic friend. But it’s strange, because if this were just a book about adolescent romantic politics, the stakes wouldn’t be nearly as high. What I mean is, many of the events within Kathy’s memories seem small–petty disagreements among a friend group with unsure and differing personalities–but when you slowly realize the gravity of the situation (that these people are clones who are required undergo surgeries that will kill them after one third of the lifespan of your average person), these seemingly petty “rows” (British words!) are elevated to amazing heights. Seen in this light, Ruth’s borderline “Mean Girls” toxicity (silly comparison, I know) becomes unthinkably cruel and unfortunate. You guys know what I mean?

      • caringiscool says:

        oh man, what ali888 said.

        i found it incredibly challenging to be compassionate towards ruth. even taking into account the circumstances of their childhoods, and the inherent insecurity of their lives, her level of cruelty and manipulation was deeply disturbing to me. ruth spends so much time controlling the people around her, either through small kindnesses (helping kathy find her tape) or cruelty (basically everything else) that it’s easy to see her as a Mean Girl, the kind of person who feels they can only elevate themselves by squashing other people. as ali8888 said, in a regular lifespan, such behavior would be regrettable, but really only a blip on the radar screen of a very long life. in their lives, though, where their childhoods are the majority of their life spans and they have only each other to cling to in the world, such cruelty is nearly unforgivable.

        where does she learn this behavior? where does kathy learn to NOT do exhibit this behavior? none of them seem to be motivated by the extreme brevity of their lifespans, one way or the other. and yet they all develop whatever mechanisms they feel (on some unconscious level) that they need to survive.
        whether on purpose or not, this book brings up some very interesting questions about nature vs. nurture. all the donors have such distinct personalities, despite being basically farm-raised with all the same influences on their young minds. they all develop completely differently, though, with ruth developing a nearly bottomless capacity for selfishness while kathy develops a sensitivity and empathy that we don’t see in any of the other characters. tommy is the volatile one, the thinker. there is the girl who is the joker. they all take the same influences and develop different personalities, just like siblings do within the same family. without families to consciously nurture specific behaviors in them (kindness, consideration, affection) their natures still manage to bloom.

      • ali888 says:

        I wonder, is it explicitly written that the Hailsham kids know of their fate early on? I got the feeling that this knowledge crept in slowly (i.e., their fate was a “given,” but the kind of given that’s not explained in detail or with enough vigor that a child or adolescent would grasp the true meaning. When they know for sure (or if they always know), they do (as another commenter noted) seem to accept it as inevitable. Either way, for some reason I can’t really explain I felt their attitudes and behavior developed without true understanding of the meaning of their fates, and it’s more of a dramatic irony situation for the reader, who sees the real measure of Ruth’s slights upon the book’s completion. And the nature/nurture idea is interesting because even if they did know on some level from very early on, wouldn’t it cause them to view their own futures very differently, thereby having less sense of self-worth?

    • Patrick M says:

      I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why Ruth and Tommy were together in the first place – he seems like someone she would think would be beneath her, and I don’t get his interest in her. The whole thing seemed like Rayanne Graff dating Brian Krakow because she was mad at Angela.
      Would appreciate any insights.
      (I am SUCH a Tommy)

      • caringiscool says:

        I guess I assumed Ruth wanted to keep Tommy and Kathy apart. It would be in keeping with her personality to feel so threatened by the idea of her best friend feeling something for anyone else that she’ll deliberately steal their love from them, keeping herself in the center of everyone’s regard.

        And, now that you mention it, it reminds me of when Rayanne got busy with Jordan Catalano. Rayanne/Ruth’s self-loathing and jealousy of Angela/Kathy drives R/R to almost want to be A/K, you know? Again, it’s like on some level they see it as a way to be closer to A/K. (What very gracefully explained idea, Kira. Good stuff.) And of course Jordan/Tommy goes along with it because sex.

        Am I wrong in feeling like there wasn’t any build up to us finding out Ruth and Tommy are together? My memory of the story is that Kathy just kind of drops it on us, which is an interesting choice. For all Kathy’s sensitivity, as a narrator, she does leave something to be desired. Kathy is sensitive to other people but she rarely expresses strong emotions, so everything feels dulled, emotionally. We have to assume that she and Tommy have loved each other this whole time, but who even knows, with her? She’s so matter of fact about everything, we have to read between the lines.

        (I have to go to bed. I don’t even know what I’m talking about at this point. Hope it makes sense!)

      • Patrick M says:

        I guess it’s not in Kathy’s interest to present Tommy and Ruth’s relationship narratively, since it might make us sympathetic to it.

  5. jwormyk says:

    I really enjoyed your write up Baby Friday. It got me thinking about Hoarders…stay with me here. What people value most in life are moments. It is all we really have. If you can’t live in the moment, you can’t enjoy life. These possessions, or objects, that became important in the book were usually tied to a moment in the character’s life, which made them feel human and reinforce their true human experience (the cassette tape, or more importantly the search for the cassette tape). Hoarders usually can’t get rid of anything because they feel like they are throwing away the memory attached to that object, or a moment the object represents. In the lives of these clones the objects really do hold great importance because they don’t have the ability to live freely or own their own life. With Hoarders, the compulsion to hold onto objects removes ownership or choice from their lives. Objects give the characters in Never Let Me Go the human experience, while objects take that very experience away in Hoarders.

  6. Patrick M says:

    Thanks for the writeup. W/R/T the childlike language, one thing that struck me was that in Kathy’s stories, she seemed to have trouble knowing what information to include to make her point. There was a lot of “But before that, I need to tell you about this” — some of this was structural on Ishiguro’s part, I think, used at the end of one chapter to prime the pump for the next one, but it read to me like the way kids often tell stories: way overemphasizing irrelevant details because everything seems important. (It was an annoyance to me at first, actually; it seemed too conscious a choice on the author’s part, but I eventually gave into the characters and decided given what was going to happen to Kathy, I could give her some leeway.) (A good writer trick!)

    The flip side of this is that it DOES all matter. The “gist” of pretty much every story in David Foster Wallace’s “Oblivion” seemed to be: It is impossible for me to convey to you the import of this incredibly minor thing without my explaining the entire history of everything that happened to be in the room when this minor thing happened, as well as each of the emotions experienced by everyone in the room nanosecond by nanosecond, but here goes..”

    As a means of pointing out the (obvious) fact that the doners are #literal people with whatever your definition of “soul” is, a narrative voice that is naïve and roundabout and filled with tangents, is a pretty good one? I guess is my point?

    Sorry if this is scattered: I’m writing this on my phone from the lobby of a Just Tires due to the puncture in my front passenger tire (guys, my car sort of fell on me b/c I tried to jack it up on uneven ground, and I hurt my arm, but I did not Complete, so there’s that) (don’t jack your car up on uneven ground; they are not kidding about that).

    • A Serious Monster says:

      First of all, sorry about your arm, Patrick.

      I agree that minor, seemingly irrelevant details do all matter. It’s interesting that you would say that Kathy (as an adult) tells stories the way children do, because I was struck by a sense of the students/donors as perpetual children, powerless, living managed lives.

      At the same time, you could certainly see their overstructured lives peppered with donations as commentary on demands placed on everyone by institutions, blah blah, and in that sense Kathy and Tommy and Ruth are just as much adults as anyone.

      Anyway, tangent? Tangent. What I originally wanted to say was that I really loved Kathy’s inclusion of lots of information. I saw it as her refusing to order her experiences, and it’s sort of a beautiful unconscious resistance for someone designated as less than a person to present her memories without hierarchy.

      • caringiscool says:

        oh also, regarding A Serious Monster’s comment about them being perpetual children…

        that was one of the main things about the book that really stuck with me, was their total lack of agency. they’re described many times as standing in confused huddles, like ducks or something, until someone tells them where to go. when they learn the truth about their lives, their purpose, Hailsham, etc. they never once think about advocating for their own freedom or running away from it. they are sad, but never question that that is the course their lives will take.

        one of the topics i am interested to discuss, if it comes up, is whether or not the Hailsham model is more humane. i think allowing them to develop themselves as people, but denying them the lessons they would need to live full lives or better their situations, is strangely MORE cruel than just leaving them as factory farmed organ growers.

      • Godsauce says:

        So, are you saying that caring isn’t cool?

      • Godsauce says:

        Now I want to respond more seriously to this idea. I think that you have a point, but I am certain Kathy would disagree with it. Look to the closing line of the first part of the first chapter. She is caring for a donor who wants only to die while being fed vicarious memories.

        An important thing to consider is that the less fortunate clones were not less developed as people, but that they were less sheltered and not actively acculturated to a value system designed by social engineers. The Hailsham students, in this way, begin to resemble children of privilege who grew up with many advantages, but also may be unprepared for the world. Still, it is their lives and struggles that those around them, from veterans to donors, are most curious about.

        In the context of a person created for consumption, for whom the only fate is early death, I think that possession of such a group of life experiences becomes all the more valuable. It may be more more cruel to give them so much more to ultimately be taken away, but my guess is that Kathy would prefer those memories to the ignorance of her loss.

      • Baby Friday says:

        Godsauce–I guess that comes back to the age-old argument of “is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” I would reiterate the point that sometimes knowing the truth of a situation takes away the magic or happiness of it. Sometimes not. But when Miss Emily argued that they had been given something that couldn’t be taken away…I just don’t believe that she didn’t take it away herself with the truth.

    • caringiscool says:

      it took me #literally years to realize that every author has control over their story, so that if a detail is included, it’s because the author wanted it there. maybe because my own writing process often feels completely out of my control, it never ceases to amaze me the way every element of a story is (hopefully, if the writer knows what s/he’s doing) there to make a point, reinforce a point, add a dimension, move the story along in a meaningful way, etc. writing is fucking amazing, right?

      • Patrick M says:

        I’ve read two other books by Ishiguro (Pale View of Hills and When We Were Orphans; plus, what I’ve read about Remains of the Day is in line with this): All of these have been written as a hypersubjective first person narrator looking back over the past, and who are extreeeeemely unreliable in the ways in which they portray it. In the case of When We Were Orphans (spoiler, I guess?) it’s strongly implied that the narrator has some kind of social disconnect – I assume a kind of autism, although I’ve never read anyone else say that – but because the narrator is telling the story, nothing is ever said outright.

        I have trouble thinking of Kathy as manipulative and filled with guile, but it’s probably worth remembering that this is her version of events and that they happened a long time ago.

  7. Michelle says:

    I feel smarter now! I wish I could write like this. Thanks Baby Friday!

    I wish I had something else to add, but nothing is coming to me.

  8. dafs says:

    Way to set the bar high, Baby Friday! If tomorrow my essay reads as “DERP DERP THIS BOOK HAS TIME IN IT DERP DERP” I know who I’m blaming. Great stuff.

    Anyway, I’m holding back any comments until I have the essay written (keeping my thoughts together), but I will say that South Carolina can always use more Monsters.

    • Godsauce says:

      I have decided to not write until the night before. Baby Friday’s insights are definitely coloring my reading of the material, and I can only imagine that your and ihavetoreturntovideotapes’s posts will do the same. I like this bookgum! Hurrah to the Patriot!

  9. Baby Friday says:

    Thank you all so much for the compliments! I was a little self-conscious, since it’s been about 5 years since I wrote my last paper, so I’m pleased to be well-received. Like I said, 1500 words was not enough, but I’m afraid I never would have stopped writing. All of your points are awesome–they make me want to immediately write more! So here it goes:
    @lilbobbytables: I did love the book, although it was a really slow burn. That’s absolutely because of the rambling that @Patrick M brings up; I was like, okay, fine, GET ON WITH IT. Then I realized that she was getting on with it, in her way. I *love* @jwormyk’s point about Hoarders. I’ve been in that trap before myself–seeing objects as inextricably linked to the moments or people they represent to me. I liked @Godsauce’s thoughts about Ruth stealing time from herself, that was an angle I hadn’t considered, but it’s such an interesting idea. And @teacherman’s point about completion/incompletion–wish I had thought of that! I hope I caught everyone, because everyone had such excellent points.

    About to get really personalgum here, but I was absolutely blown out by the revelation that Ishiguro was saying that people who don’t have much are incredibly attached to the things that they have. Now that I am considering wormy’s point about Hoarders, I’m even more touched. I grew up in sort of hard circumstances, and I grew incredibly attached to anything with sentimental value. I still have a card from my dad promising a gift that never arrived. I kept the card because that was all there was. I have kept stacks of free newspapers that he gave me–I’ve never read them, I didn’t keep them so I could read them. That’s why this book moved me so. I couldn’t believe how subtle the ending was–with Tommy walking up to Kathy in her imagination. So much loss, so much pain. And yet, you have to hang on to the memories, because sometimes that’s all there is.

    I’m stopping here, because we don’t need another 1500 words from me. But I can’t wait to read the rest of the write-ups! So excited!

  10. thequeenofdoorbells says:

    Wow, great writeup. I think you just explained why I found the book so heartbreaking, it’s very difficult to see someone lose the one thing they want when they have rarely asked for anything. If that even makes sense?

  11. limesix says:

    I think there’s also something to the fact that the guardians are attempting to prove that the clones have souls by teaching them to objectify (setting aside the art creation for a moment) – when, as already mentioned, they’re seen by the outside world as little more than objects. And what it seems to affect in most of them is almost proof of the opposite – it’s not that they don’t have souls (or whatever you think it is that makes us us), but that they develop their worldview and empathy and sympathy based on this narrow view of what’s important and what’s not – and in turn, they generally seem to have very little value for each other (Kathy being the prime example of this). They care, they consider, they screw, but it all has a similar limitation to how much they care about the stuff they’ve collected.

    In a way, you can see Ruth as sort of a repudiation of this – she’s manipulative and cruel, sure, but she’s straining at the constraints of how they were raised – trying to actually BECOME a person, despite all evidence to the contrary.

  12. ihavetoreturnsomevideotapes says:

    Ha, yes, I’m writing about something. On Wednesday I will be focusing on the role of Halisham and education in the development of the central characters. I think it will be a rich and rewarding conversation since I am an educator myself and often wonder what my purpose is……

  13. shellbomber says:

    Quick question! Why is this book set in the 1990s? If you change out “cassette” for “CD” it doesn’t really seem to matter. So, why the distinction?

    P.S. I’m hoping to have more enlightening things to say later in the week. Well done, Baby Friday.

    • Patrick M says:

      The only thing that came to mind when I was reading it was that Dolly the Sheep (the first cloned mammal) was cloned in 1996, and I remember it occupying a lot of discussion and (on-air) hand-wringing.

      Also, late 90s would be ~70 years after the death of Judy Bridgewater, so the entire “Songs After Dark” album would be public domain.

      (I kid, I kid!)

    • jarkrenshaw says:

      I was thrown by this too, especially since it wasn’t immediately apparent that this wasn’t some dystopian landscape. When the cassette made it’s appearance I thought, well maybe in this terrible future that was all that they had available from the past (how awful, no ipods? dystopia indeed). But I didn’t really make much of it until I became convinced that the whole clone/soul/morality aspect of the story was all back drop for this whole story. I think that Ishiguro is placing this in present day(ish) as a way of saying this isn’t a cautionary tale, this isn’t 1984 telling us the dangers of big cloning brother. It’s a story of being human. Whether our lives are planned for us or not we’re all finite and we all desperate to find meaning. Isn’t our idea of love formed around the idea of creating something that will outlive us? Is eternal love as bullshit as deferment? Who cares, never let me go.

  14. Le Fou says:

    Once again the time difference between you northern hemisphere monsters and southern hemisphere located me means that everything has already been discussed but just want to say that once again I have loved this!

    I have to agree that reading about the way Kathy and others clung to their possessions struck me as the most ‘human’ thing they do, much more than their art work or other creative endeavours, and as the most obvious proof of what Madame and Miss Emily were fighting for which made the story even sadder for me.

    Also, I don’t know whether there will be much more discussion of Ruth throughout the week but boy, do I have a friend who is EXACTLY like her to the point that I could almost predict how Ruth would react to situations in the book purely based on asking myself how my friend would, yikes.

  15. jwormyk says:

    There are so many good comments here, I don’t even know how to respond. I am a bit overwhelmed. The last paragraph really is the best. She is at Norfolk, the place where everything she lost ends up, and Tommy appears to her. The irony is the barbed wire fence with “trash” stuck in it. People really view them as nothing more than trash that is disgarded after it has “completed” its usefulness. Tommy washes ashore with the other trash, but to Kathy, Tommy and everything else she lost means something because it is the only thing that makes her feel real and human.

  16. dr. girlfriend says:

    at a certain point, i’m not allowed to reply to the posts in a thread anymore and it is v. frustrating. this was discussed a bit above.

    from caringiscool:
    one of the topics i am interested to discuss, if it comes up, is whether or not the Hailsham model is more humane.

    some people said that kathy and the donors would prefer this method, and i agree. donors growing up in less-privileged places forfeited a childhood for the knowledge of their inevitable fate. what none of these individuals were given however, was knowledge plus some agency over their lives. this never occurred to proponents of places like hailsham because ultimately, they did not consider donors to be human beings. madame and the like pitied them, practicing a condescending social justice where they advocated FOR the donors instead of WITH them, ultimately reinforcing the donors’ disenfranchised status within society.
    miss emily: “there were times i’d look down at you from my study window and i’d feel such revulsion…but i was determined not to let such feelings stop me doing what was right. i fought those feelings and i won.”

    oh! thanks a TON, bitch.

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      kathy and tommy don’t even really react to this maltreatment, although they have the capacity to, because their advocates withheld the skills from them.

    • Patrick M says:

      Life at Hailsham as metaphor for Believing in Santa Claus. INVESTIGATE

      • dr. girlfriend says:

        even though we weren’t christian, my mom let me believe in santa claus. then one day, in pre-school, she sat me down and told me the awful truth. i was soooo upset! and then i told everyone in my class.

    • Godsauce says:

      I think that the Hailsham model is more humane, in the same way a house slave has a better life than a field slave. They are still property, and they are still objectified, but they are more comfortable and sometimes have affection for their owners. In this way, it seems to me that the Hailsham method might have been better sold to the public as a strategy to prevent a clone rebellion. Of course, Miss Emily and Madame could be seen more as racist abolitionists than progressive slavers.

      I agree with Baby Friday that the reveal robbed them of much of that comfort, but it was still there. From a human rights perspective, that might only amount to having the biggest cell on your cell block, but from the perspective of the narrator, it probably means a lot more.

  17. Very good article. I will be experiencing a few of these issues as well..

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