Chapter 1 Summary

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is set in England in the late 1990s. The narrator, Kathy H., says she is thirty-one years old and has been a “carer” for eleven years. She explains that although this seems like a long time, “they” want her to continue for another eight months. Some really effective carers are asked to stop after just a few years; she asks what can explain her longevity.

She explains that her “donors” tend to exceed expectations. They recover quickly and are rarely classified as “agitated,” even before their fourth donation. Kathy is quick to point out that she is not bragging. Given her experience, she gets to choose with which donors she will work. Although her detractors argue that this is just because she went to Hailsham, she points out that she has worked with all sorts of people. Besides, people are not machines, and being a carer can wear after a while.

Modest though she may be, Kathy does have an impressive record, and it seems that her success can be at least partially explained by her ability to tell what her patients need. For example, in one case, the donor had a difficult background. He did not want to share his childhood memories. Instead, when he found out that Kathy went to Hailsham, he wanted to hear about her childhood. In fact, he wanted to remember so that it would feel like it was his own childhood. The aura that surrounds Hailsham is powerful, and Kathy still thinks about her time there when she drives around the countryside.

She remembers the sports pavilion. She recalls watching with the other girls as the boys pick teams. The girls are all focused on Tommy, who is a talented player but is otherwise picked on by the other kids. The girls can all see what is about to happen but, Ruth points out, Tommy has no idea. The boys pick captains, but neither team selects Tommy, who in response flies into a tantrum. Kathy reflects that the girls were “vaguely curious” to watch this humiliation in a detached way.

However, Kathy notices more. She sees that Tommy is wearing his favorite blue polo shirt and that playing in the pavilion will ruin it. When he flies into his rage, cursing the boys and waving his arms about, Kathy leaves the group of girls and approaches Tommy. Before she can touch his arm, he unintentionally bats her hand away. She points out that his shirt is already a little muddy and offers advice on how to clean it, but Tommy struggles to overcome his anger. Kathy returns to her friends, who call Tommy a “mad animal.”