SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Page Count: 288
Genre: Science Fiction
Tone: Complex, suspenseful, thoughtful
1. In one interview, Ishiguro observes that in many reviews of Never Let Me Go, the words “strange” or “sinister” keep coming up. Do these words reflect your experience with the book? What other words would you use?
2. Ishiguro, on the other hand, claims he thinks of this as his “most cheerful book”. Why do you think that is?
Ishiguro: “In the past, I had written about characters’ failings…With NLMG I felt that for the first time I had given myself permission to focus on the positive aspects of human beings. OK, they might be flawed. They might be prone to the usual human emotions like jealousy and pettiness and so on. But I wanted to show three people who were essentially decent. When they finally realize their time is limited, I wanted them…to care most about each other and setting things right. So for me, it was saying positive things about human beings against the rather bleak fact of our mortality.” (The Paris Review)
3. At what point in the story did you realize the full meaning of “donor” and “complete”?
4. One of the most common criticisms of the story is that the students never take action to change their fate. Did this bother you? How do you respond to the author’s explanation of his choice:
“It’s something I do instinctively in my writing,” says Ishiguro “and with this book it was a very important feature that escape was not an option. It’s about how we’re all aware of our fate, in that we have a limited time in life. Escape isn’t an issue in the book, because it’s never really an option in our own lives. Characters like Stevens and the kids in Never Let Me Go do what we all do; try to give meaning to our lives by fulfilling some sort of duty.”
5. Kathy’s narration is a key to the novel’s disquieting effect. Was the choice of Kathy’s perspective a wise one? How would the novel be different if narrated from Tommy’s point of view, or Ruth’s, or even Miss Emily’s?
6. What are some of Ruth’s most striking character traits? How might her social behavior, at Hailsham and later at the Cottages, be explained? Why does she seek her “possible” so earnestly?
7. Art is a recurring motif throughout Never Let Me Go. In which scenes is art a topic? What is the importance to the students as children? As adults? To the story’s themes?
8. Speaking of love, what is the importance of the myth of deferral – both to the students and to the narrative? As you read, did you have hope that this was a real possibility for them?
9. Why do you think there was so much attention given to sexual urges and relationships? Is it simply because the story focuses on adolescents and young adults, or is there another explanation?
10. How is the students’ inability to have children significant?
11. What is the significance of the title?
12. What were your reactions to the meeting with Miss Emily and Madame?
13. Is it surprising that Miss Emily admits feeling revulsion for the children at Hailsham?
14. What is the book saying about childhood? Think about this, too, in the context of Miss Lucy, who wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. In contrast, Miss Emily claims they were able to give them something precious – “we gave you your childhoods” (p. 268). In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?
15. One the distinguishing features of Ishiguro’s novels is his prose style. How would you characterize his writing? How did you respond to it?
16. If you have seen the recent movie adaptation, what impressed you? What disappointed you? Which did you find more poignant?
17. Did this novel surprise you? Would you be open to reading another like it? Are there similar books you might suggest?
Abe Books discussion questions
Lit Lovers discussion questions
Kazuo Ishiguro interviewed by Allan Gregg
Book review by The Guardian
Book review by The New York Times
Ethics of cloning Wikipedia page
Trailer for movie adaptation
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