From the start of the novel, a few things become immediately clear about Kathy H. She’s thirty-one years old, and she’s been a carer for eleven of those years, a pretty impressive feat as fourteen is considered an especially long time. Her job is something she feels very strongly about and has a great deal of pride in. And she serves as an unreliable narrator. While the term is fairly new, the concept of an unreliable narrator is exactly what it sounds like, and can be found in works as old as The Canterbury Tales or as recent as Ishigo’s last novel, When We Were Orphans.
In her third year as a carer, Kathy tends to a donor who wants to hear her memories of Hailsham before he completes. He takes her stories and turns them into his own memories, replacing his own, which he believes to be unsatisfactory. Kathy takes this experience as proof of how lucky her and her classmates were, but this is why the novel is told in the form of a flashback: so that Kathy has the opportunity to romanticize her own experiences at Hailsham. She admits as much early on, when she says that, with regards to her first meaningful interaction with Tommy, she might be “remembering it wrong”. When she is later confronted with the notion that memories can fade, she rejects it outright, and having lost everything else, clings to those memories for dear life.
For a lot of people, school is a time of immense confusion and angst, but it is often viewed favorably with nostalgia. Such it is with the Hailsham students. At the beginning of part three, Kathy runs into a burned-out Laura, who relates that Ruth has had a bad first donation. They also speak for the first time about Hailsham’s closing, thereby cementing it in their memories. They’re unable to think about it at any length, because they both live in the past, easily the best option to people who have no futures.
While the title can refer to any number of things, from the Judy Bridgewater song, to the notion of holding onto a child or a lover, or to Kathy’s friendships with Ruth and Tommy, perhaps the most overreaching definition is the one that makes Madame weep for little dancing Kathy. Madame cries for a girl who can’t let go of the old world, and we know for a fact that this is true. Their futures only exist on posters and in magazines. Their possibles are out there somewhere, but feel just as tangible as Tommy’s animals. When Kathy sings “Never Let Me Go”, she’s singing it not to a doll, or Ruth, or Tommy, but to Hailsham itself. Don’t make me wake up. Don’t make me say goodbye.
After a total of twelve years as a carer, the job has effectively wore her down. She can no longer leave Hailsham behind. Despite the best efforts of Miss Emily and Madame, there’s no humanity for Kathy and her friends to share with the world. Their lives were nothing more than ephemera, as useless as their art projects: just something to bide the time until they got the chance to fulfill their ultimate purpose. Their futures are bleak, their presents are mundane at best, and their pasts are lived in fantasy. The last lines of the book find her in Norfolk, trying to catch a glimpse of all that she has lost, before returning to the future that has been set for her since the very beginning. Like all the classmates who have completed before her, Kathy is simply an empty vessel, hollow long before her first donation.
- My apologies if this thesis seems both short and a little muddled. I read the novel the week after you guys covered Blood Meridian, and I wasn’t taking notes right out of the gate. Within the past week, I downloaded the audiobook to refresh my memory for some of the stuff at the beginning. If I were any real writer, I would’ve organized my notes prior to writing. Silly me!
- I liked it a lot more than I had expected. When I saw it was by the writer of The Remains of the Day, my thoughts immediately went to stuffy Victorian novels, which is not exactly what I typically look for. But while this definitely had a very detached, British feel to it, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
About the Author:
Dafs is a Mental Health Tech working out of South Carolina. He is on his third year of applying to medical school, and his second of reading Videogum. He has a minor in English that he occasionally utilizes to write Lion King fanfiction. He lives with his fiancee and their two cats, and has too much knowledge about horror movies and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (check out the episode where they watch Parts: The Clonus Horror, about a colony of clones raised for organ donation).
- Wednesday, ihavetoreturntovideotapes is TALKIN ABOUT the role of Halisham and education in the development of the central characters.
- 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