Chapters 1-4

In Ishiguro's chilling dystopian novel, three students at a secluded boarding school learn the truth about their identities and their futures.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. resentful
    full of or marked by indignant ill will
    If you’re one of them, I can understand how you might get resentful—about my bedsit, my car, above all, the way I get to pick and choose who I look after.
  2. guardian
    a person who cares for persons or property
    I can remember us back in the Juniors, pleading with guardians to hold the next lesson in the pavilion instead of the usual room.
  3. veranda
    a porch along the outside of a building
    The pavilion was big enough to take two separate groups without them bothering each other—in the summer, a third group could hang about out on the veranda.
  4. languorous
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    The other boys were all moving around the field in that deliberately languorous way they have when they’re warming up, but Tommy, in his excitement, seemed already to be going full pelt.
  5. quip
    witty remark
    This time Ruth heard me, but she must have thought I’d meant it as some kind of joke, because she laughed half-heartedly, then made some quip of her own.
  6. daft
    foolish or mentally irregular
    There was something comical about Tommy at that moment, something that made you think, well, yes, if he’s going to be that daft, he deserves what’s coming.
  7. rile
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    And although we hadn’t had any part in this latest plan to rile Tommy, we had taken out ringside seats, and we were starting to feel guilty.
  8. sheepish
    showing a sense of shame
    He seemed to regret immediately this last remark and looked at me sheepishly, as though expecting me to say something comforting back to him.
  9. compulsive
    caused by an irrational motive for repetitive actions
    This was all a long time ago so I might have some of it wrong; but my memory of it is that my approaching Tommy that afternoon was part of a phase I was going through around that time—something to do with compulsively setting myself challenges—and I’d more or less forgotten all about it when Tommy stopped me a few days later.
  10. irony
    witty language used to convey insults or scorn
    At last I gave him a smile and said with no irony: “Look, Tommy, it was an accident and it’s now one hundred percent forgotten. I don’t hold it against you one tiny bit.”
  11. prolific
    intellectually productive
    The rule was you could only buy work done by students in your own year, but that still gave us plenty to choose from, since most of us could get pretty prolific over a three-month period.
  12. meander
    move or cause to move in a winding or curving course
    I loved visiting her there, loved those meandering talks we had, through the summer to the early autumn, sitting on that balcony together, talking about Hailsham, the Cottages, whatever else drifted into our thoughts.
  13. fancy
    have a particular liking or desire for
    I must have fancied him. I can’t think why else I’d have bought his poems. They’re just hysterically daft.
  14. mystified
    totally perplexed and mixed up
    I was pleased about all these developments, but also mystified.
  15. probe
    question or examine thoroughly and closely
    I was mystified, and decided to probe him a bit the next time we could talk in private.
  16. queue
    a line of people or vehicles waiting for something
    The chance came along before long, when I was lining up for lunch and spotted him a few places ahead in the queue.
  17. hubbub
    loud confused noise from many sources
    It was something to do with the acoustics in the Great Hall; all the hubbub and the high ceilings meant that so long as you lowered your voices, stood quite close, and made sure your neighbours were deep in their own chat, you had a fair chance of not being overheard.
  18. rubbish
    nonsensical talk or writing
    “That’s just rubbish, Tommy. If you’re going to play stupid games, I can’t be bothered.”
  19. crestfallen
    brought low in spirit
    I could see he was bewildered and crestfallen, but after the months I’d spent worrying about him, I felt betrayed, and didn’t care how he felt.
  20. reproachful
    expressing disapproval, blame, or disappointment
    I gave him a reproachful look and walked off without responding, but already, I suppose, I’d begun to entertain the possibility that he wasn’t, after all, making it up about Miss Lucy.
  21. discreet
    marked by prudence or modesty and wise self-restraint
    It wasn’t, though, a good place for a discreet conversation—not nearly as good as the lunch queue.
  22. provisional
    under terms not final or fully worked out or agreed upon
    I’m not sure if it was for Tommy’s benefit, or for any onlookers’, but I’d kept my posture looking very provisional, and at one point made a move to carry on with my stroll.
  23. inkling
    a slight suggestion or vague understanding
    But as they were walking from the house towards the Orangery—where the guardians had their living quarters—Tommy began to get an inkling this was something different.
  24. clammy
    unpleasantly cool and humid
    I remember a time when I could only have been five or six, sitting at a low table beside Amanda C., our hands clammy with modelling clay.
  25. indulgent
    tolerant or lenient
    Mr. Roger smiled indulgently, as though to say: “Let it pass, we’ll pretend you never said that,” and we carried on as before.
  26. snooty
    overly conceited or arrogant
    For years we thought of her as “ snooty,” but then one night, around when we were eight, Ruth came up with another theory.
  27. bedlam
    a state of extreme confusion and disorder
    A car was a rarity, and the sight of one in the distance was sometimes enough to cause bedlam during a class.
  28. loiter
    linger, remain, or wait around for no apparent reason
    We had a hurried conference out on the landing, then followed the rest of the class down the stairs and loitered just inside the main doorway.
  29. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    At a signal from Ruth we all sauntered out, moving straight for her, but like we were all in a dream.
  30. lark
    play boisterously
    At one level, it was just us kids larking about.
  31. taboo
    excluded from use or mention
    After that day, mention of Madame became, while not taboo exactly, pretty rare among us.
  32. acquisitive
    eager to attain and possess material possessions
    The tokens controversy was, I suppose, all part of our getting more acquisitive as we grew older.
  33. ambivalent
    uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow
    But by the time we were ten, we’d grown more ambivalent about it.
  34. nostalgic
    unhappy about being away and longing for familiar things
    When you come across old students from Hailsham, you always find them, sooner or later, getting nostalgic about their collections.
  35. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    They would have driven me mad, but Miss Emily always ignored them, like they were beneath her contempt.
  36. dodgy
    of uncertain outcome; especially fraught with risk
    The atmosphere around the table had become one of deep embarrassment, and curious as we were to hear more, we wanted most for the talk to get away from this dodgy territory.
  37. coerce
    cause to do through pressure or necessity
    She might then resume with a gentle sigh—a signal that we were going to be forgiven—or just as easily explode out of her silence with: “But I will not be coerced! Oh no! And neither will Hailsham!”
  38. uncanny
    surpassing the ordinary or normal
    Certainly, Miss Emily could be uncannily sharp.
  39. canter
    ride at a smooth three-beat gait
    I accepted the invisible rein she was holding out, and then we were off, riding up and down the fence, sometimes cantering, sometimes at a gallop.
  40. foible
    a minor weakness or peculiarity in someone's character
    I’d been correct in my decision to tell Ruth I didn’t have any horses of my own, because after a while with Bramble, she let me try her various other horses one by one, shouting all sorts of instructions about how to handle each animal’s foibles.
Created on January 17, 2018 (updated January 17, 2018)

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