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Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go

​​In a nutshell

Never Let Me Go is a novel written in 2005 by Kazuo Ishiguro which is set in a dystopian version of the United Kingdom. In this summary, you will recap the plot, the characters and their relationships and themes in the novel.

Plot summary

Never Let Me Go is set in a dystopian alternate history of the United Kingdom, where human clones are raised for the sole purpose of donating their organs. The story follows the lives of three friends – Kathy, Ruth and Tommy – who are all clones and attend a special school called Hailsham.

At Hailsham, the students are taught to embrace their special roles as donors and are told that their sacrifices will help save lives. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy form a close bond and support each other as they come to terms with their eventual fates. However, as they grow older and leave Hailsham to begin their donor cycles, cracks begin to form in their relationships.

Ruth becomes jealous of Tommy's feelings for Kathy and begins to distance herself from the pair. Tommy and Kathy's relationship also becomes strained as Tommy struggles with the reality of his donations and the fact that he will never be able to have a normal life. Despite these challenges, the three friends try to hold on to their relationships and the memories of their time at Hailsham.

As Kathy approaches the end of her own donor cycle, she reflects on the choices she has made and the sacrifices she has had to make. Despite the pain and loss she has experienced, she finds solace in the knowledge that her donations have helped others. The novel ends with Kathy taking on the role of a "carer" – a person who supports donors through their final donations – as she continues the cycle of giving and sacrifice.



The novel's protagonist, Kathy is a clone who was raised at Hailsham and becomes a donor. Through her experiences and reflections, the reader gets a glimpse into the world of the clones and the weight of their sacrifices. Kathy's character represents the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit, as she grapples with the difficult realities of her situation and tries to find meaning in her life.


A classmate of Kathy's at Hailsham, Ruth is ambitious and often puts her own interests above those of her friends. She becomes jealous of Tommy's feelings for Kathy and tries to sabotage their relationship. Ruth's character represents the potential for selfishness and betrayal that can arise when faced with difficult circumstances.


Another classmate of Kathy's at Hailsham, Tommy is kind and compassionate, but struggles with the reality of his role as a donor. He is torn between his love for Kathy and the knowledge that he will never be able to fully be with her due to his fate as a donor. Tommy's character represents the desire for a normal life and the toll that the weight of one's circumstances can have on a person.

Miss Lucy

A teacher at Hailsham, Miss Lucy is kind and caring towards the students and tries to protect them from the harsh realities of their situation as clones. However, she is ultimately unable to shield them from the truth and the students must come to terms with their fates on their own. Miss Lucy's character represents the limits of care and protection, and the difficult choices that must be made in the face of a larger system.


Kathy \leftrightarrow​ Ruth

Kathy and Ruth are close friends who attend Hailsham together, but their relationship becomes strained as they grow older and face the reality of their roles as clones and donors. Ruth becomes jealous of Tommy's feelings for Kathy and distances herself, while Kathy tries to remain loyal and supportive. As they navigate the challenges of their donor cycles, their relationship becomes strained, but they ultimately try to hold on to their friendship.

Kathy \leftrightarrow​ Tommy

Kathy and Tommy are friends who attend Hailsham together and have a close bond. As they grow older and face the reality of their roles as clones and donors, their relationship becomes strained. Tommy struggles with the knowledge that he will never be able to have a normal life and the weight of his circumstances takes a toll on their bond. Despite this, they try to hold on to their relationship.

Tommy \leftrightarrow​ Ruth

Tommy and Ruth have a close and complex relationship that evolves over the course of the novel. At times, Ruth is jealous of Tommy's close relationship with Kathy, and there is tension between the three of them. However, Ruth and Tommy also have a strong bond and are there for each other through difficult times. Eventually, Ruth and Tommy become romantically involved and are together for many years.



The theme of maturation, or coming of age, is a significant theme in Never Let Me Go. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, are all depicted as going through a process of maturation as they grow up and come to understand more about themselves and the world around them. This theme is particularly evident in the ways that the characters struggle to come to terms with the harsh realities of their lives and the difficult choices they must make as they grow older.


The theme of identity is central to Never Let Me Go, as the main characters struggle to understand who they are and what their place is in the world. This theme is explored through the characters' relationships with one another, as well as through their relationships with the adults who have authority over them, such as Miss Emily and Madame. The novel also explores the ways in which the characters' identities are shaped by the societal expectations and norms that they are raised with.

Time and nostalgia

The theme of time and nostalgia is also an important one in Never Let Me Go, as the characters look back on their past experiences and reflect on the ways in which their lives have changed over time. The novel explores the ways in which the characters are affected by their memories and the longing for a simpler, more innocent past.


The theme of deceit is also present in Never Let Me Go, as the characters grapple with the lies and secrets that have been kept from them by the adults in their lives. The novel explores the ways in which deceit can be used to manipulate and control others, and the consequences that can result from such deceit.

Key quotations




Chapter 1
Kathy (narration): "Or maybe I’m remembering it wrong."
Time and nostalgia
Kathy frequently interjects with provisos that her memory is hazy of some of the events she is recounting. This leads the reader to question whether she is truly a reliable narrator.
Chapter 6
Miss Lucy: "It’s not good that I smoked. It wasn’t good for me so I stopped it. But what you must understand is that for you, all of you, it’s much, much worse to smoke than it ever was for me (...) You're students. You're . . . special."
Smoking is highlighted as especially bad for the students at Hailsham because they need to be kept as healthy as possible. In this, they are clued into their "special" identity – and therefore their purpose – for their organs to be harvested.
Chapter 7
Kathy (narration): "The earlier years—the ones I’ve just been telling you about—they tend to blur into each other as a kind of golden time, and when I think about them at all, even the not-so-great things, I can’t help feeling a sort of glow."
Time and nostalgia
The "glow" Kathy refers to is a feeling of nostalgia and longing for the past. She contrasts this "glow" with the more "dark" years that came after.
Chapter 14
Ruth: "We all know it. We’re modelled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. We all know it, so why don’t we say it?"
Ruth is "straight talking" here: she expresses anguish to the group about who she may have been modelled on and therefore the uncomfortable truth of who they may be as people.
Chapter 22
Miss Emily: "Very well, sometimes that meant we kept things from you, lied to you. Yes, in many ways we fooled you. I suppose you could even call it that. But we sheltered you during those years, and we gave you your childhoods."
Miss Emily justifies the rationale at Hailsham by arguing that lies and deceit are necessary to keep the students sheltered. A moral question emerges: should they be told the truth or should they be sheltered from it to enhance their childhoods?

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