It is England in the late 1990s. Kathy H., now 31, recalls her formative years, which were spent in a remote, exclusive, seemingly idyllic country boarding school, Hailsham.
She and her friends Ruth and Tommy were always conscious of being special, although the reader is not aware of the precise nature of their purpose until quite a way into this gripping book.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s text raises disturbing questions. Why do the pupils at this school have no surnames? Why are they kept in cloistered conditions? Why do they rarely meet ordinary people from the outside world? Why do students from other schools regard those who live at Hailsham as particularly privileged?
Tension mounts as we become increasingly suspicious about the future that is mapped out for the youngsters.
There is something profoundly disturbing about their general compliance with the situation. They are not like ‘normal’ children: they lack spark, exuberance, rebelliousness. Their acquiescence and passivity agitate the reader, as a sense of helplessness and hopelessness grows.
Ishiguro has explained that he was tackling some of the oldest issues that have been addressed in literature: questions about the soul, and about what it means to be human. Whilst major writers from the past – he cites Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as examples – debated such matters, Ishiguro feels that contemporary novelists have struggled to find an appropriate tone to use.
However, he did not intend his book to be interpreted as a prophecy; rather, he wanted readers to find echoes of their own lives.
Kazuo Ishiguro photo by Mariusz Kubik