Kathy H. is the novel’s protagonist and narrator. She is a thirty one-year-old carer at the beginning of the novel, although she is preparing to soon become a donor. Kathy has worked as a carer for nearly twelve years, much longer than most of the students with whom she grew up at Hailsham. Although she is still a relatively young adult, she has outlived most of her childhood friends. Kathy spends her days looking backwards, recalling her memories of the people that she has lost. Through these memories, the novel traces her complex relationships with her Hailsham friends Tommy and Ruth. Kathy’s reflections also preserve the memory of Tommy and Ruth, both of whom have already “completed.”
However, Kathy is also an unreliable narrator. Her account is subjective, presenting events from only her point of view. She does not recall events in strict chronological order, frequently interrupting one memory to share a related memory from another period in her life. She often states that she may be misremembering certain details. At times, she also admits that Tommy or Ruth recalled a particular event or conversation differently than she does. These idiosyncrasies reflect the unreliability of memory itself, which is necessarily incomplete and episodic. At the same time, Kathy is also an unreliable narrator because she carefully guards her own feelings. Kathy never explicitly states the depths of her feelings for Tommy, for instance, although her love becomes increasingly clear as the narrative unfolds.
Kathy’s memories likewise show her reliance on silence and indirection, especially when it comes to expressing her emotions. For instance, Kathy often expresses her anger with Ruth by walking away rather than explicitly confronting her. As a student at Hailsham, Kathy exhibits restraint and self-consciousness. She often worries about being seen or overheard, especially in conversation with Tommy. Kathy also frames herself as a careful observer. She often stands outside the action in her memories, carefully watching those around her and noticing subtle details about their behavior. At the Cottages, for instance, Kathy realizes that many of the veteran couples have copied their gestures of affection from television.