The book begins in Hailsham, an obviously special school set in an idyllic corner of the English countryside. But this is clearly no ordinary education. We follow the fortunes of three of its students, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. We see them grow up, make their fumbling transformation from childhood to adolescence and then embark upon the stuttering unpredictability of young adulthood. Hailsham’s students have to learn how to deal with their own shortcomings and how to manage their talents. They must cope with sometimes strained relations with their teachers, especially in the area of reconciling what they want to do versus what seems to be demanded of them, and thus what they are allowed to attempt. They become aware of sex and introduce themselves to its world in their own ways at different times, each of them reacting differently to their experience.
So what makes these people so special? Well, for a start they live protected lives. They never appear to need any money, nor possessions, for that matter, what little they do have being recycled ad infinitum via a system of almost formal barter. They seem to be protected from fashion, consumerism, family break-up, mass media and even street life. Surely there is something strange about them, despite their apparently normal physical, mental and psychological characteristics.
Not until about half way through the book does the reader start to fill in the blanks. But by the end the dreadful picture is complete, and rendered even more frightening by its complete credibility. To find out the nature of the plot, you will have to read the book, but, though I have stressed the importance of the overall concept’s contribution to the book’s success, it is not the subject matter that makes this a superb novel. It is the characterisation, the empathy that the reader develops with Kathy and Tommy and the sympathy that their tragedy eventually engenders. The context served to amplify these responses, not blur or confuse them. It is this quality that makes never Let Me Go a completely memorable and highly moving read.
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Never Let Me Go