This page provides a summary of the key events in the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The Novel starts with Kathy H., who describes herself as a carer, talking about her job looking after organ donors. She has been a carer for over 11 years at the time of narration, and she reminisces about her time spent at a boarding school in England called Hailsham. At Hailsham the teachers are known as guardians. The children are watched over closely and they are often told about the importance of being creative by producing art and of being healthy (smoking is not tolerated, almost on the level of a crime, and working in the vegetable garden is compulsory for all students). The students' art is exhibited, with the best art chosen by a woman known to the students as Madame, who keeps their work in a gallery. Kathy develops close friendships with two other students, Ruth and Tommy. Kathy is fond of Tommy, looking after him when he is bullied by some of the other students. However, Tommy and Ruth form a relationship instead.
One of the guardians, Miss Lucy, informs the students that they are clones who were created to donate organs to others, and as a result of their donations they will die young. Miss Lucy is sacked from the school as a result of her disclosure, but the students passively accept their fate.
At the age of 16 Kathy, Ruth and Tommy move to the Cottages. After their protected childhood at Hailsham, this is the first time they are allowed in the outside world. Ruth and Tommy are still together and Kathy has some sexual relationships with other men. At the Cottages they meet two older housemates (Chrissy and Rodney), who had not been at Hailsham, they tell Ruth that they have seen a "possible" for Ruth, an older woman who resembles Ruth and thus could be the woman from whom she was cloned. As a result, the five of them go on a trip to Norfolk see her, but the two older students first want to discuss a rumour , that a couple can have their donations deferred if they can prove that they are truly in love. They believe that this privilege is for Hailsham students only and so wrongly expect that the others will know how to apply for it. They then find the possible, but the resemblance to Ruth is only superficial, causing Ruth to wonder angrily whether they were all cloned from "human trash".
During the trip, Kathy and Tommy separate from the others and look for a copy of a music tape that Kathy had lost when at Hailsham. Tommy's recollection of the tape and desire to find it for her make clear the depth of his feelings for Kathy. They find the tape, and then Tommy shares with Kathy a theory that the reason Madame collected their art was to determine which couples were truly in love, citing a teacher who had said that their art revealed their souls. After the trip, Kathy and Tommy do not tell Ruth of the found tape, nor of Tommy's theory about the deferral.
When Ruth finds out about the tape and Tommy's theory, she takes an opportunity to drive a wedge between Tommy and Kathy. Shortly afterwards she tells Kathy that, even if Ruth and Tommy were to split up, Tommy would never enter into a relationship with Kathy because of her sexual history. A few weeks later, Kathy applies to become a carer, meaning that she will not see Ruth or Tommy for about ten years.
Ruth then has to start donating, her first donation doesn’t go well and her health deteriorates. Kathy becomes Ruth's carer, and both are aware that Ruth's next donation will probably see her complete (die). Ruth suggests that she and Kathy take a trip and bring Tommy with them. During the trip, Ruth expresses regret for keeping Kathy and Tommy apart. Attempting to make amends, Ruth hands them Madame's address, urging them to seek a deferral. Shortly afterwards, Ruth makes her second donation and completes.
As Tommy's has also started to donate Kathy becomes his carer and they form a relationship. Encouraged by Ruth's last wishes, they go to Madame's house to see if they can defer Tommy's fourth donation, bringing Tommy's artwork with him to support their claim that they are truly in love. They find Madame at her house, and also meet Miss Emily, their former headmistress, who lives with her. The two women reveal that guardians tried to give the clones a humane education, in contrast to other institutions. The gallery was a place meant to convey to the outside world that the clones are in fact normal human beings with a soul and deserve better treatment. It is also revealed however that this experiment has failed and that this is the reason Hailsham was closed. When Kathy and Tommy ask about the deferral they find out that such deferrals never existed.
Tommy knows that his next donation will end his life, and confronts Kathy about her work as a carer. Kathy resigns as Tommy's carer and does not see him again. The novel ends after Tommy's "completion", where Kathy, seeking a quiet life, drives up to Norfolk and briefly fantasizes about everything she remembers. Kathy knows that she too will have to start donating and will not live for much longer.