From the outset, there seems to be something not quite right in Never Let Me Go. The story’s narrator is Kathy H., who we are told is a carer, and although she cares for “donors”, it is not quite apparent what this caring job involves. We are also aware that Kathy H’s donors “do much better than expected” and that “hardly any of them have been classified as agitated, even before fourth donation.” But a sense of foreboding pervades the plot.
Kathy’s past is rooted in Hailsham, a private school where she spent her younger years and made friends with the two other main characters of the story, Ruth and Tommy. As she reminisces and her school days unfold before us, we get the feeling again that something sinister is going on. But Ishiguro has so horrific and terrifying a secret that no amount of guessing by the readers will help uncover it before its time.
One of Hailsham’s goals is that its children are exposed to the world of art and literature and kept healthy and fit. Yet the obsession with health strangely assumes gargantuan proportions. There are regular weekly medical checks; smoking is considered criminal. It is at this point that one starts to wonder what Hailsham sees these kids as - individuals or machines. The fog begins to clear when we read one of their teachers telling them “That's what each of you was created to do.” And even as they meet their very end they are simply called “completed”, as any mission should be.
Revealing too much of the plot would be a sin; suffice to say that Ishiguro achieves what he sets out do to in his characteristic slow, gentle, and unobtrusive way. At the heart of the shocking tale of exploitation, extreme cruelty and brutality, lies the understanding of what it really means to be human. As Kathy H. holds her imaginary baby close and croons “Baby, never let me go,” we get a glimpse of how human frailties, follies and warmth can be found in the most unexpected of places.