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Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham - an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods - and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.


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Have been having a Kazuo Ishiguro binge. He is an incredibly good writer. Started off with 'Remains of the Day', then 'When we were orphans' and finally 'Never Let Me Go.'


Was really glad I hadn't read any of the reviews of Never let Me Go as it meant all of a sudden there was an unbearable poignancy as you realise their fate.


His writing follows that old Einstein quote 'Keep it as simple as you possibly can' but still carries huge emotional weight. A common thread that seems to run through the novels I have read are about loyalty and discovery and understandin through memory.


Having said all of the above I am struggling somewhat with 'The Unconsoled' as yet am only 20 or so pages in

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I found this book incredibly poignant and I was full of admiration for the way in which the plot is constructed out of meticulously observed micro-narratives. The lives of the characters are so limited, their environment so constrained and yet the author has so much to tell us about them. After I had finished reading it, I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the characters. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year.



Currently reading A Complicated Kindness by Mirain Toews

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BGOers kep recommending interesting books, and The List of books I must read gets longer and longer.


Apart from 'The Remains Of The Day', the only book by Ishiguro that I have read so far is 'An Artist of The Floating World". Your posts have sent me to Amazon to look at his other titles, and they all look worth reading!

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This is the first book by Kazuo Ishiguro I've read and I am so impressed, I can only agree with the previous posters that the writing is beautiful, full of detail and poignancy. I'm also glad I knew nothing of the plot because the slow drip, drip of information revealing the truth is all the more affecting because of the surprise.


I'm sure I will be thinking about it for some time and I'm definitely going to read more by this author now.

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I just finished this book yesterday and loved it by the end. Unlike the previous two I'd read of Ishiguro's 'Remains of the Day' and 'When We Were Orphans' it took me a while to get in to. The slow reveal of what Kath, Ruth and Tommy were and what Hailsham actually was, was a little frustrating at first.

I love Ishiguro's novels and the way he explores the physicology of memories. It seems all of his books are in some way dealing with how we alter our memories to decieve ourselves. All his narrators recall their lives, telling their stories and only as the books go on is it shown that maybe what they remember and what actually happened differs or has been disorted by how they've remembered it.

I thought that despite the frustrating start 'Never Let Me Go' really achieved this, I can see why its up for the Booker. At the begining I felt I was irritated because I knew something was strange about the school and its students and I was kept in the dark and expected to accept it like the students, unlike the students though I questioned this and it lead to me feeling like I was in someway being treated like a child, not trusted to be told. After I'd finished the book I felt that Ishiguro was probably going for something like this to show how maybe the students did know more than they admitted to themselves (and to the reader) by the end I thought that it was the only way they could deal with who they were and what they would had to do with their lives.

I did end up wanting to know more about the other places that weren't like Hailsham, did anyone else feel that? To see if the theory of Hailsham was right even though it had been seen to fail...or made to. We met a few of these students at the cottages but not very much was really said and I wondered if this was deliberate, if Ishiguro thought that it wasn't important to know.

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This is a superb yet enigmatic novel, possibly more heart rending and thought provoking than any novel I have read for a long time. I'll have to be clear right at the onset that this novel isn't science fiction so I'll make it clear right now there could be some SPOILERS in this short review. It isn't giving too much away to say the novel is about cloning but it isn't about some weird future like Brave New World or some outcome of the modern world like Oryx and Crake. In fact its set right now in our times perhaps just a little changed; an alternative nowadays then. There isn't any science in it either; no leaps of scientific imagination needed. Ishiguro has written another novel that brings us right down to the inner personal level of the characters - like he did with Remains of the Day, the "big" picture as it were, the background to the reality within the narrative we aren't shown. This is the enigma; we never get the whole background to the story there isn't the filling chapters that tell us how this alternative reality came, there aren't a host of subset characters to fill in the shadowy areas. The novel isn't trying to open debate or make clear the authors point of view of genetic research or cloning it merely poses the dilemma for us - as I said no science is involved, no horror or gore. No deep theological meanings are explored or implied; the simplicity of the novel is its asset. It tries to tell us about the loss of our own hopes and dreams and of our own acceptance of our fates.


Kathy, Tommy and Ruth appear to have an idyllic life in a boarding school called Hailsham out in the English countryside Kathy is the narrator of the story as she sees it in flashback. As the gentle background evolves it becomes clear that this strange peaceful life they lead as children masks a dark reality that they accept. They are to be organ donors when they grow up, there is no talk of parents or of brothers and sisters or real family life. They live in a cultured world of art and poetry and gentle sports with much emphasis on sports and health. There is little contact with the outside world yet it isn't some weird concentration camp. They know they are to be donors and they accept it they see it as an honour, a duty. Yet to all intents and purposes they are quite normal children growing into teenagers with all the angst that goes with normal growing up. I was at first awaiting some revelation in the text that they were some kind of abnormal multi-limbed freaks but they aren't at all. Specially bred clones they are but normal in every respect. The narrative concerns the main three growing up in the school environment then leaving to some form of halfway house before going on to become the "donors" alluded to in the school. The narrative never concerns itself with the donation process - how does this work? Why do they accept it? How has society got to this level of normality where people are bred to donate organs then presumably die when all the important ones are gone? What monsters are these that have conceived such a nightmare? No, none of this is covered, not even alluded to except in the most obscure and obtuse ways. This very obscurity at first convinced me there was some vast plot hole with buses coaches etc awaiting permission to drive through or that Ishiguro had just written a novel with blanks that the reader was meant to ignore. But the obscurity is the whole point of the novel we are forced to look through the eyes of the children growing up and the confused adults they become, their acceptance and docility as children then onto their hopes and dreams as young adults is to be honest deeply moving and heartbreaking. They accept their hopes won't be realised as adults realise perhaps their childish dreams of being spacemen or pop stars won't come to pass. But the sinister future of the "students" as they are referred to and the "training" they are given to become "carers" until they too can become "donors" is all just accepted as part of life, as part of growing up. The world carries on regardless - they watch TV and go out and just accept. This is what the novel is about, letting go of dreams to become just another part of the crowd, accepting our place in life uncomplainingly and plodding on till we are old - or in the case of the students of Hailsham till they "complete" - or die in our terminology.

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I just thought that I'd let people who haven't already read the book know that "The Book People" issue the Booker shortlist every year in the run up to Christmas. This year the books are all hardbacks and the cost is a bargain £29.99. Treat yourself or split the set for Christmas presents!



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minxminnie 26th March 2006 02:17 PM


I've just finished this novel, and I certainly found it one of those books that will go on to haunt me. I came to it having read "Remains of the Day" - it seems as if a lot of people go on a bit of an Ishiguro binge!


No-one in the discussion so far seems to have mentioned the students' compliance with their fate. What stopped them from rebelling? Why did no-one run away and try to become a film star or work in a shiny office? it frustrated me that they were all so happy to go along with their given role - and, as they were "fully human" young people, it didn't ring true. I can see why they wouldn't rebel at Hailsham, as their lives were so carefully controlled that they would have little idea of how to do so, but the carers, at least, seemed to be given a lot of freedom in the real world. I was hoping for some sort of rebellion, maybe from Kathy and Tommy at the end. I don't think the novel lead me to expect this, though - it wasn't ever going to be a triumph over adversity story. Maybe the frustration I felt was part of what Ishiguro was trying to achieve, but I'm confusing myself now!


Another quibble was with the carer system - when they had donors gathered together in large centres, why on earth did they have carers driving all over the country rather than caring for a group in one place? Was it to give the carers a sense of personal purpose - and if so, why bother when they took so little account of them in other ways? These things really niggled with me.

But in other ways, the book was beautiful, and I suppose the fact that I'm obsessing about these details of the lives of made up people shows just how involved I became!




donnae 5th April 2006 04:50 PM


I finished this book last week, and have been pulling my thoughts together about it. This is definitely one of those stories that will stay with me a long time.


It is a beautifully written book - the pace is superb, as you gradually realise the fate that awaits Kathy, Ruth and Tommy.


I did share your frustration Minxminnie that they didn't run away, but they seem to be so programmed into accepting their fate, it appears that they don't even think to run.


I wondered about the significance of the visit to the boat - whether that is the closest they come to thinking of escape. What do other people think about the visit to the boat?


Kathy always speaks about the "sex" that they have. They never make love, which makes it all sounds very mechanical and loveless, but then they grow up without understanding what love is.


The premise behind this story is terrifying, but appears almost acceptable in the setting of the book.


This is my first Ishiguro book, but I think I will be reading more.




katrina 17th April 2006 12:44 PM


i finished Never Let Me Go yesterday and found it quite a strange book. It took me quite a while to get in to because the reader isn't explained to what is happening at the beggining, and i found that once they had discovered their fate from Miss Emily that I was not so inclined to finish the last couple of pages.


This was not actually a book i would have picked to read myself, but it was a reading group choice, I am glad i did read it tho i can't imagine wanting to reread it at a later point. tho I loved Remains of the Day when i read it at school years ago.


I felt that i never got to know Kath as a character she was never whole for me. I also thought her relationship with Tommy was true when they were younger, but was just grasping for a home when they were adults. Did anyone believe they did have a soul? Can paintings depict a soul?


I wanted someone to rebel and escape, to have a normal relationship with another human being, to fall in love, to have their heartbroken - just to live really with some real emotions

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continuation of thread, retrieved from Google



17th April 2006, 03:39 PM

bookreader jackie


Never Let Me Go

I recently read this book and felt there were many similarities to The Remains of the Day. What do you think?




20th July 2006, 10:38 AM




I found the first few chapters of this book really irritating. There is obviously 'something' that Kathy is taking for granted that we are not party to, and I was full of questions that no-one was answering... What was 'Hailsham'? If they were 'students', why did they have 'guardians', not teachers? Why were they so happy to buy the bits of second-hand junk from the 'sales'. Why was there no mention of parents or siblings? Why did they have no contact with the outside world (that seemed really weird in our 'communication age'; they never watched TV or listened to the radio)? Why were they so reliant on each other? etc.


Most of the problems I had were because of the way I was reading the book - two paragraphs, or two pages at most, and I fell asleep. Once the weather got too hot to work in the garden I read larger chunks, and the story began to take shape. However, I see that others also found it difficult at first.


Anyway, the questions were gradually answered, and the horrifying truth slowly emerged.


I never wondered why they didn't run away. Run away from Hailsham? Why? They were happy there, they knew nothing else, what alternatives did they have? By the time they got to 'The Cottages', they had been so long on the conveyor belt to 'donating' until they 'completed' that they welcomed it.


It's quite a scary book, because modern scientific developments could make this possible in an almost forseeable future. There must be a point somewhere between Bush's position (Vetoing Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding this week) and the Hailsham -and worse- style cloning, where a line should be drawn. But will we recognise it in time?




15th August 2006, 07:17 PM



I've just put down Never Let Me Go and appear to be in a minority of one to find it sorely lacking.


There are just way too many holes in the plot. If this was written by a lesser-known on a different topic, it would be in the bin of a publisher but there's something about dystopia books that seem to let through a lot. At times it reminded me of The Lake House by James Patterson, which is on the qualification list for the worst-book-I-have-ever-read prize.


Others here have already mentioned questions like, what was the boat about, why didn't they try and escape (especially when they could drive about), what was the point of the carer thing if they had nurses and the carers couldn't relate to them as well as their fellow doners. I'd like to know why Miss Emily and Madame found them repulsive - did they look weird? Was this why they couldn't assimilate. If they could choose when to start their training and knew what was in store, why didn't they stay at The Cottages for good; were they cloned without a brain? And what organs were they donating anyway? How can you donate three organs and still be walking around, especially when the fourth was (probably) the final one? They thought the people they were cloned from were probably prostitues and the homeless; not exactly my first choice if I was going shopping for an organ donor but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.


So basically, I found the whole thing too daft to be taken seriously. The plot holes interfered with the story-line and characters were too childlike to be believable for me too. Taking a controversial subject like this and using it to explore themes like loyalty and memory, rather than the political, social and real human issues involved, seems like a missed opportunity at best and a cop-out at worst.


1984 and A Handmaid's Tale are safe at the top of my dystopian favourites list.




15th August 2006, 08:08 PM



Originally Posted by MissRibena

I've just put down Never Let Me Go and appear to be in a minority of one to find it sorely lacking.


There are just way too many holes in the plot. If this was written by a lesser-known on a different topic, it would be in the bin of a publisher

I'm spoilering all of my reply, as I don't want to give away any more than has already been revealed



None of the points that irritated you bothered me at all (except for the boat) so I reckon we'll have to agree to differ about this book?





15th August 2006, 08:11 PM


Originally Posted by MissRibena

There are just way too many holes in the plot.

Such as?

what was the boat about

A metaphor. The boat is stranded in the water, rather then flowing with the current. They decide, upon seeing this, that they would like the same to happen in their own lives, to prolong their minimal years, rather than head downstream so fast. I think Tommy makes mention of it towards the end, if I remember, when he talks about a river that must separate them.

why didn't they try and escape

Er, why would they want to escape. They aren't exactly living in our version of Earth. These are people raised with a purpose in their life and that purpose is to supply humanity with organs. They are brought up to believe in their purpose and can't see it as being wrong. They would have no need to escape. It's all they know.

I'd like to know why Miss Emily and Madame found them repulsive - did they look weird?

Because Miss Emily and Madame were humans - in the you and I mould - and not clones brought up with the sole purpose of being organ farms. Their feelings would be more akin to the futility of such lives; repulsed moreso by the inevitability of these youngs lives and their inability to change it, than by the children themselves.

what was the point of the carer thing if they had nurses and the carers couldn't relate to them as well as their fellow doners.
And what organs were they donating anyway? How can you donate three organs and still be walking around, especially when the fourth was (probably) the final one?

These are people raised specifically for their organs; who is not to say that, in a world where genetic science is commonplace, that these children are not genetically modified to carry more organs so as to help humanity prosper?


That's the beauty, I find, of Ishiguro, that so much remains unsaid. Who wants a book where everything is explained? That sort of book lasts five minutes in the memory before being flushed by the next hyper-revelatory drivel.

characters were too childlike to be believable for me too.
Well, when the characters are brought up in a special school and don't have contact with the outside world, don't have the same upbringing normal humans have, and know so little of the world (even smoking, for instance) is it really that hard to believe that they would be childish? There experiences in life are so few that they are not emotionally developed. Kathy, for the duration of the novel, is just trying to make sense of live - she's completely bewildered by it.
Taking a controversial subject like this and using it to explore themes like loyalty and memory, rather than the political, social and real human issues involved, seems like a missed opportunity at best and a cop-out at worst.

I see that the subtleties of Ishiguro (sometimes you really do have to read between the lines with him) have been lost on you. Memory, with the man, is a constant exploration - the way the mind remembers. Better than drivel such as The Kite Runner where the memory relays consecutive events. The political, social, and human issues are there within the novel for all to see - the question of cloning is political, the ethics is human, and the release of clones into society is most certainly social. The thing is, Ishiguro is never going to take one side or another, he's just going to show it as it is (or, in this case, could be) and let the reader go away, think long and hard. And then decide.

1984 and A Handmaid's Tale are safe at the top of my dystopian favourites list.
What about Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and the grandfather of the genre, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin? I have problem with Atwood, as a writer, so I doubt I'll ever read A Handmaid's Tale.



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* #21 *

15th August 2006, 08:21 PM





I didn't read this thread before I read the book, and forgot to read it after, until now.


I find Mike's exposition on page one of the thread very interesting, and he has reminded me that Ishiguro explores themes in his books that go far beyond the plot. I found the following remark particularly interesting:

This is what the novel is about, letting go of dreams to become just another part of the crowd, accepting our place in life uncomplainingly and plodding on till we are old - or in the case of the students of Hailsham till they "complete" [/Quote]



* #22 *

16th August 2006, 01:21 PM




Definitely we'll have to agree to differ.


All of your replies to the questions I had with the book, were thoughts that crossed my mind but couldn't satisfy the incompleteness (the holes) of the plot that drove me nuts and distracted me so much that whatever good was to be found elsewhere in the book was overwhelmed.


I suppose my basic premise is that this is a serious subject matter, that's pertinent to our time and I think a chance was wasted. I don't believe a wishy-washy, let-your-readers-defend-your-flaws approach is sufficent to do this kind of topic justice. I prefer the author to actually do the writing; sure I can fill in the blanks at times but he has to meet me halfway. There's a time and place for "subleties" but I don't think this was it or this was the way to approach it. If he didn't want to explore the topic properly, then I can't see the point of the topic at all, let alone as the whole basis for a novel. If the author wanted to explore the kinds of universal human themes that I feel he did (loyalty, memory etc. etc.) then this was silly pretext to use.


I'm not thick guys, I just didn't like it And yes, I've read Brave New World and others, but am not a huge fan of that either. LIke I say, A Handmaid's Tale and 1984 are my favourite dystopian novels; Never Let me Go wouldn't come within a whisper of either in my opinion. So shoot me.


Part of me also feels (albeit without any serious justification), that the wasting of this chance (as I see it) rules out the chances of a "proper" treatment of it in the near future as any attempts to do so will be overshadowed by this half-assed job by such a high profile writer.




#23 *

16th August 2006, 02:14 PM




Originally Posted by MissRibena

If he didn't want to explore the topic properly, then I can't see the point of the topic at all, let alone as the whole basis for a novel



Ishiguro isn't tackling cloning or genetic engineering as the theme for his novel so why explore it? And if he were to explore it properly, we'd just have another cliche style novel arguing for or against. This novel, as a sideline, gives you the mind of someone created by the process. In this world you can't argue for or against human cloning because it's already a way of life. Might as well argue for or against shopping, eating - perhaps even breathing.



* #24 *

16th August 2006, 02:51 PM




I don't agree that we live in a world with cloned humans. I think it is a topic worthy of proper treatment and that it was a poor choice of context for the kind of novel Ishiguro wanted to write. So I guess we're back to agreeing to differ.


Even the idea that there was no escape for the clones as they were institutionalised is something I don't buy. There was no mention of modification of their brains or anything like that; in fact, it was reasonably clear (to me) that they were fully human in everything except fertility, up to and including having a soul (insofar as you believe any human does). Many institutionalised people go onto lead "normal", if scarred, lives on leaving the institution. The characters all seemed to have a level of freedom that afforded them the chance to break free from destiny (access to porn, ability to drive about, nominate when to start their training if they indeed had to start at all). They didn't seem to be phsycially different either, as apart from the repulsion of MissEmily or Marie-Claude, they appeared to be able to mix with the rest of the population quite easily. In fact the one thing that marks them as any less human than average is the very fact that they accepted their fate without exception. Sure lots of "regular" people go through their lives unconsciously but certainly not everyone. But these are my ideas, my projections, and they are as a result of talking to you lot, not as a result of reading the book unfortunately.




#25 *

16th August 2006, 05:42 PM




Originally Posted by MissRibena

Even the idea that there was no escape for the clones as they were institutionalised is something I don't buy. There was no mention of modification of their brains or anything like that; in fact, it was reasonably clear (to me) that they were fully human in everything except fertility, up to and including having a soul (insofar as you believe any human does). Many institutionalised people go onto lead "normal", if scarred, lives on leaving the institution. The characters all seemed to have a level of freedom that afforded them the chance to break free from destiny (access to porn, ability to drive about, nominate when to start their training if they indeed had to start at all).

I agree, Rebecca. This was one of the things which jarred with me, although I did enjoy the book overall. I couldn't see why no-one even tried to rebel. They were only institutionalised as children, after which they were fairly free. And young people tend to test the limits of whatever limits are put on them.

You're not alone!



* #26 *

16th August 2006, 07:09 PM




Originally Posted by MissRibena

Many institutionalised people go onto lead "normal", if scarred, lives on leaving the institution.

With massive support from people who consider that being institutionalised isn't a 'normal' way to live. The lives of the cloned donors was considered to be normal, so who would support them?

Hailsham was an experiment, the majority of cloned children wouldn't even have had that much freedom of expression.


I think we are discussing two different novels here, the one I read was the one Mike was posting about here:

This is what the novel is about, letting go of dreams to become just another part of the crowd, accepting our place in life uncomplainingly and plodding on till we are old - or in the case of the students of Hailsham till they "complete" ..

This is still the experience of many people... of the majority until 50 years ago.


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* #27 *

3rd September 2006, 09:33 PM




Join Date: Apr 2005

Location: St. Helens

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I have just finished reading Never Let Me Go and must confess to being a little disappointed.


I do love Ishiguro's novels and agree wholeheartedely with Mike's review when he says it is most a thought provoking read (I am still thinking about it 2 days later!), so much so I checked out the author's interview online in respect of this novel whereby he confirms the story is more of a (Quote):


"alternative history". More in the line of "What if Hitler had won?" or "What if Kennedy hadn't been assassinated?" The novel offers a version of Britain that might have existed by the late twentieth century if just one or two things had gone differently on the scientific front.


Therefore I think Mike's review is spot on when he believed the novel was more of a "alternative nowadays".


Having said all this however, for some reason I cannot explain, I remain disappointed. Maybe because the narrative was purposefully simple and the characters intentionally lacked warmth, maybe it is because you could see how it all could be possible - I really don't know. But there is either something lacking in me or the novel which I just can't place ... something I'm just not getting ... please don't all reply at once!!!



* #28 *

30th December 2006, 10:32 AM


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Join Date: Dec 2006

Location: Bingley, West Yorkshire

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Never Let Me Go


I was given this book by a friend who had bought it but did not read it. It has stayed on my shelves since the summer, but I needed something this Xmas to kick start my reading (having been in chick lit hell for weeks). I have only read The Remains of the Day, so had no real idea apart from the fact that I liked it and the film. So, it is the first book since The Time Traveller's Wife that has gripped me totally, has made inroads into my psyche, has continued to haunt me long after I finished it. Why? The exquisitely crafted structure, the matter of fact delivery, childlike innocence even until adulthood of the characters, and the painful acceptance of their fate, which I could not understand and which is never explained. They don't rebel (like the clones in The Island), they don't run away, they don't even complain. That is what hurt me the most. The dystopian vision didn't really affect me. There are so many horrible things already happening in the real world that this sci fi type premise is not really a shock anymore. It was the characterisation. So beautiful, so tragic, so inevitable.



* #29 *

30th December 2006, 11:31 AM





Welcome to BGO, smallmercies.

I'm glad that Never Let Me Go did the trick for you, and got you out of 'chick-lit hell'. If you spend alittle time browsing the various forums I'm sure you will find lots more suggestions to keep you on the straight and narrow!

And if you fancy the occasional return to a lighter read, you'll find that we are not too snooty about that either


Do visit the introductions thread in Central Library, and tell us a little about yourself.

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And this was where I came in :)


I think the problem with this book is that we feel alienated from these people who are so like us and yet, put in this position ourselves, in our present society, we would almost certainly rebel. I want Kathy and Tommy to so much, but they don't, not very adequately at least and I feel I don't connect with them because of it.


I don't dislike the book because of that though. I feel it would have been more exciting and gripping if Ishiguro had gone down that route and followed their rebellion to its' conclusion, but what he's written is no less interesting. It's a more poignant, less satisfying story the way it is. You come to the end with a real sense of regret. I suppose I wanted a happier ending and the fact that I didn't get one disappointed me. Still, I respect Ishiguro's story as it is. He chose the route he chose and I respect that.

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  • 4 months later...

This is my first Ishiguro, and I was hooked from page one. The drip feed of information kept me wanting to read on, but it also made me rush it a little. I'm glad I read it without having read any reviews though- trying to piece together what Kath was talking about kind of added to her character- like there was something different about her manner, something that you couldn't fully put your finger on.

I think Tommy explains why they don't run away, or rebel, when he explains how he thinks they tell them information before they're ready to understand it, so it's just there, in their minds, and by the time they do understand, they've accepted it. He's self aware enough to identify that, but not enough to be scared about what's going to happen to him, or to find it unjust.

It does feel very inevitable. You kind of want to stop it from happening, but you can't. It feels so... unnecessary. And I think the fact that they don't rebel against it, that they just accept it, is the real tragedy in this book.

There's no one to say "No, this is wrong!" and the people that had tried to, Miss Emily and Madame, seemed to have given up when it got tough.

They have no families, no one fighting for them, and no voice. They are totally alone in the world, apart from each other, and yet they participate in each others deaths, by being carers. When Kath chooses Ruth and Tommy as her donors it's almost like she's playing a part in their deaths, and the prolonged pain that precludes it. That felt so perverse to me.


I have when we were orphans on my shelf to read soon, hopefully it will measure up!

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I have when we were orphans on my shelf to read soon, hopefully it will measure up!
Me too. I've 'enjoyed' all the Ishiguro that I've read so far, so it gets more and more scary each time I start a new one...will this be the one that disappoints?
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I have when we were orphans on my shelf to read soon, hopefully it will measure up!


I also started on Ishugoro with Never Let Me Go. I didn't enjoy When We Were Orphans anything like as much, but that doesn't mean you'll feel the same! On the other hand, I really loved Remains of the Day. Welcome to the site, by the way!

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I am still thinking about this book six months after I read it and in fact, saw it in Waterstones the other day and it sent a shiver down my spine. I absolutely, categorically hated it. Made myself finish it but couldn't get on with the characters at all. I just wanted to slap Tommy around the face most of the time and Kathy was naive to the point of nausea. I felt they were all poorly constructed and didn't feel quite real - or was that the point and I missed it?!?!

The subject matter was brave and I have never read anything that tackles the same issue before, so in that sense it was groundbreaking but I did just keep wondering, if a first time novelist had written this, would it still be sitting on some agents discarded pile with the words "weird and badly written" scribbled all over it??


I left it in a hotel room, so a thousand apologies to the next person in there who picked it up and thought it looked like a good read..... :)

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I contributed to this thread last year but my comments were lost in the Great Crash and were not recovered.

I listened to an unabridged audiobook narrated by Emelia Fox. She made Kathy so real that I did not suffer the same lack of belief in her that other posters have. In fact, apart from the strangeness of the whole concept I did not have any of the problems that others had with the whole concept and the way the story unfolded (and wasn't aware of them until I read this forum). I wonder whether I would have had a read the novel instead of listening to it.

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Kathy was naive to the point of nausea. I felt they were all poorly constructed and didn't feel quite real - or was that the point and I missed it?!?!

Oh, they were well constructed and very real. You just missed it. Perhaps you forgot that Kathy is naive because she's been brought up in a world specifically for her organs. What matter is it that she learns of the outside world? And remember, it's a world where this sort of thing happens every day. Not our world. The fact it's set in 1999 is a clue to that.

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I have just been reading the comments on this thread and felt I had to say a word to stick up for this book as I did enjoy it.


I think I may have looked at this book in quite a different way to everyone else. What I saw was that the characters took an almost allegoric form to create a discussion of humanity. The main question being raised being what makes us Human?


The characters who are brought up to be organ donors are not brought into the world naturally, they are cloned, however they genetically and biological have the same make up as other humans. Most importantly the human they were cloned from. However what is it that makes these two genetically identical beings identical? Essentially one is human and lives a 'normal life' while the other is degraded to an almost animal status as they are farmed for there organs.


We see Cathy and Tommy make attempt to postpone there progression into carers by making a claim they are in love. There is a rumour that if they can prove they are in love they will be awarded a certain amount of time to make a live a 'human' life implying that it is love that makes us human as the reward of love for the characters in this text is the humanity they have otherwise been denied.


However, what makes the ending to this text so poignant is that the rumour turns out to be false. In love or not their fate is sealed. It is deconstruction of the proverb 'love conquers all' as in this text it does not. The romanticism and day dreams of the characters must be surrendered to the responsibility of their lives.


It is possible to develop this point further to say what makes us human is our mortality. The acceptance of the inability to avoid death. As the unavoidable fate is the only way in which the 'clones' are equal with the 'humans'. However, the 'clones' must die to prolong the 'humans' impossible fight against death. The paradox here is that there apparently idyllic upbringing at school they are actually being striped of there humanity they are being conditioned to be submissive, this is shown in the disapproval of Tommy’s rebellion. Suggesting that it is not love for others that makes us human, when all that is striped away the human race has not developed beyond 'survival of the fittest' when striped of individuality (as the clones are and many examples can be found in the text) humanity is lost.

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