Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Where It All Goes Down
England, late 1990s
Never Let Me Go gives us three main institutional settings: Hailsham, the Cottages, and the donor recovery centers. Though Kathy spends most of her time in these three locations, the girl can drive a car, so sometimes she gets to go exploring. Well, maybe exploring is taking it a bit too far, but she does get to drive through various English towns and fields. Let's take a closer look.
Kathy and her friends spend the first sixteen years of their lives at Hailsham. From what Kathy tells us, the digs sound pretty sweet, even if there are some creepy elements. The real estate listing for Hailsham might sound something like this:
This spacious house contains plenty of classrooms and dorm huts for all your schooling needs. It boasts a large sports pavilion perfect for spying on boys playing in neighboring fields. The ample grounds are surrounded by a fence that is not electrified (but which no one crosses anyways) and creepy woods (where no one goes because they fear they may get dismembered). Entirely secluded from the outside world, this real estate gem is perfect for hiding clones that you want to pretend don't exist. But beware: if you ever leave, you will never ever be able to find Hailsham again.
Seriously—how weird is it that Kathy can't find the place she grew up? We know she had geography lessons at Hailsham, but apparently they forgot to mention the school's address. Or even what town it's in. This means Kathy sees reminders of her home everywhere, but can't actually track the place down: "Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hailsham. I might pass the corner of a misty field, or see part of a large house in the distance as I come down the side of a valley, even a particular arrangement of poplar trees up on a hillside […] Then I see it's impossible and I go on driving, my thoughts drifting on elsewhere" (1.8). Hailsham sure is a hidden gem—emphasis on the hidden.
In comparison with Hailsham, the Cottages aren't looking so hot. When Kathy and her friends move from Hailsham to this new home, it's a definite downgrade. We're not going to lie, the real estate listing for the Cottages would be a hard sell:
These converted farmhouses require some TLC. The buildings are run-down and the rooms are damp. But there's a charming churchyard nearby perfect for reading outdoors or getting in squabbles with your friends. The heat doesn't work, so residents will need to sleep under extra blankets, carpets, and coats in order to avoid freezing during the winter. Enjoy!
The thing is, Kathy and her friends really do enjoy their time at the Cottages, even without central heating. To Kathy, she may need to wear layers of clothing even in the summer, but as she tells it: "none of us minded the discomforts one bit—it was all part of the excitement of being at the Cottages" (10.7). We're thinking the Cottages sound kind of like camping: you might be cold and itchy, but you're still having a grand time.
And they stand in sharp contrast to perfect, neat Hailsham. Sure, they're shabby—but they're a lot less mysterious. Things are more out in the open here, and the clones are given the chance to explore their inner lives.
Donor Recovery Centers
The final stop for each of the donors is a recovery center. These are the buildings where Kathy and her friends undergo operations to remove their vital organs, and where they recuperate between donations. They are also the places where the donors "complete." We're thinking that a brochure for a center where clones go to die might need to sugar-coat things a bit:
When it's time for you to do your duty to society and donate your vital organs, come join us at a recovery center where you can recuperate in style. Here you'll find a range of amenities to meet your needs between giving away vital organs. Some recovery centers, like the one in Dover, are clean and warm. Some of the others, like Kingsfield, are older and shabbier, but can still be homey with the right carer looking after all your recovery needs.
Also, what do you make of this term "recovery center"? We're thinking that it's a bit of a euphemism. In fact you, might even call it propaganda to make the centers sound more positive. The truth is that the donors recover just to be cut up again and donate more organs. And eventually they don't recover at all. But whoever gave these centers their name was a marketing genius. "Recovery center" sure does sound less ominous than "completion center" or "place where you give away organs and die."
Norfolk and the English Countryside
Kathy spends a lot of time driving around England, especially when she is working as a carer. (Hop on over to "Symbols" to read more about driving in the novel. We'll wait for you to zoom on back.) She visits Norfolk at least twice (when she finds the tape, and after Tommy has completed), and she journeys through a bunch of other towns as well. Kathy finds the English countryside and the seaside towns to be super relaxing and good places to reminisce.
In fact, getting to drive through these scenic areas seems to be her favorite part of being a carer: "I do like the feeling of getting into my little car, knowing for the next couple of hours I'll have only the roads, the big grey sky and my daydreams for company. And if I'm in a town somewhere with several minutes to kill, I'll enjoy myself wandering about looking in the shop windows" (18.5). A little alone time, a little shopping—at least being a carer has its perks.