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Kathy arrives at the Cottages with Ruth, Tommy, and five of their Hailsham classmates. They meet the gruff caretaker Keffers and the “veterans,” a group of older students already living at the Cottages. None of the veterans attended Hailsham. Kathy and her friends slowly adjust to life at the Cottages, which are a group of run-down farm buildings converted into living space. They spend their days discussing literature, philosophy, and art with the veterans. They also work on their final essay assignments from Hailsham, although the essays begin to feel less urgent as time goes on. Several of the veterans are in established relationships, and Kathy notices that these couples unintentionally mimic the gestures of television show characters. Ruth begins to copy the veteran couples, adopting a gesture of lightly tapping Tommy on the arm to say goodbye.
One day, Ruth annoys Kathy by summarizing the plot of Daniel Deronda aloud while Kathy is reading it. Kathy asks Ruth why she hits Tommy on the arm to say goodbye. When Ruth claims not to know what she means, Kathy says that the gesture isn’t worth copying because it comes from television. Ruth brushes off the comment, but Kathy senses that she is angry. Ruth says that Kathy is jealous of her new veteran friends, and accuses her of associating only with the Hailsham students. Kathy accuses Ruth of not looking out for Tommy. In response, Ruth ambiguously acknowledges that Kathy has made friends with “some of the veterans.” Kathy walks away angrily.
Kathy explains why Ruth’s comment about the veterans bothered her. Kathy and Ruth quarrel often at the Cottages, but also confide in one another more than ever. They spend long evenings in Kathy’s room, talking privately about their new lives. Kathy believes they have an unspoken agreement not to use anything they discuss against one another. Ruth’s comment refers to the fact that Kathy has had sex with a few of the veteran boys, something that Kathy admitted in one of their private conversations. Kathy pauses to explain that attitudes about relationships and sex were more straightforward at the Cottages than at Hailsham. The veterans did not gossip about sex, and treated one-night-stands casually. When Kathy told Ruth about her “one-nighters,” or one-night-stands, she also admitted to having strong sexual urges. Ruth was sympathetic, but agreed that Kathy’s urges seemed unusual and denied having such urges herself. Kathy admits that her own comment about arm slapping may have provoked Ruth to make the comment about her one-nighters. Ruth tried hard to impress the veterans at the Cottages, often ignoring Kathy and Tommy. Kathy says that the arm slapping comment violated her unspoken agreement to support Ruth’s attempts to fit in.
Kathy remembers a conversation at Ruth’s recovery center, where Ruth expressed regret about throwing away her “collection” of Hailsham items at the Cottages. While Kathy kept her collection, Ruth asked Keffers to donate hers to charity because the veterans did not have collections. Kathy returns to recalling life at the Cottages. Although some of the veterans are training to be carers, they never discuss their training courses. The veterans also avoid talking about students who have left for good, only mentioning them in connection with objects they have left behind. One day, Kathy picks up a stack of pornographic magazines left behind by a veteran named Steve. She takes the magazines to the boiler room, where she flips through the pages and looks closely at the faces of the models. Tommy walks in, and is surprised to see her with the magazines. She tells him that she is looking at them just for fun, but Tommy suspects that she is not telling him everything.
While Hailsham is associated with childhood, the Cottages represent a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood. Accordingly, life at the Cottages is less supervised than life at Hailsham. For instance, sporadic and indifferent visits from the caretaker Keffers replace the constant surveillance of the guardians. The students’ connections to Hailsham also begin to erode at the Cottages, where their final essays represent a last tangible link to their guardians. Yet the students begin to lose focus on these essays as time goes on, which shows their weakening sense of connection with Hailsham. It also shows their identities as students are becoming less formal, as they realize that the guardians will not hold them accountable for completing the essays. In other ways, however, life at the Cottages actually echoes life at Hailsham. Although they are not responsible for assignments, the students do continue their academic pursuits in a more leisurely and casual way. Like Hailsham, the Cottages are also relatively isolated from the outside world. In addition, the veterans show a familiar reluctance to talk about donations and refuse to mention those who leave to become carers.
Read more about Kathy’s two years at the cottages.
At the Cottages, Ruth seems more prepared than Kathy to leave the memory of Hailsham behind. This difference is reflected in the way that each one treats her personal collection of Hailsham items. Kathy holds onto her collection, in the same way that she holds onto her memories of Hailsham. Meanwhile, Ruth gives hers away because the veterans do not have collections. This shows that while Kathy prioritizes reminders of their childhood, Ruth prioritizes fitting in at the Cottages. Because none of the veterans attended Hailsham, Ruth’s efforts to fit in necessarily involve giving up her Hailsham habits. In imitating the veteran couples, for instance, she rejects the showy displays of affection common between Hailsham couples. Meanwhile, Kathy takes up her familiar role as an outside observer. Instead of copying the veterans like Ruth does, Kathy quietly notices that the veterans themselves are actually copying their gestures from what they see on television. Her observation suggests that life at the Cottages is an imitation of life in the outside world, and reinforces her resistance to adopt the habits of the veterans.
Read more about the similarities and differences between Kathy and Ruthy.
Kathy’s friendship with Ruth also becomes more strained at the Cottages, and their arguments reflect their opposing attitudes towards Hailsham. Ruth accuses Kathy of ignoring the veterans in favor of their Hailsham friends, reflecting her frustration with Kathy’s attachment to Hailsham. Kathy accuses Ruth of neglecting Tommy in favor of the veterans, reflecting her frustration with Ruth’s dismissal of their shared ties to Hailsham. At the same time, Ruth does show reluctance to entirely renounce her connections with Hailsham. Ruth’s new attitudes disappear when she and Kathy are alone, and she becomes more like her old self in the privacy of Kathy’s room. Ruth also shows an emotional attachment to her collection, asking Keffers to donate it to charity instead of throwing it in the trash. While her donation of her collection foreshadows the coming of adulthood and the start of her organ donations, Ruth’s refusal to throw the items out also reflects a wish to preserve something of her childhood. When she later regrets giving away the collection at her recovery center, Ruth more openly expresses a desire for memories of Hailsham that mirrors Kathy’s own nostalgia. This episode also highlights the irony in that all of the Hailsham students’ collection items were donated by people in the outside world who may at one point receive and benefit from the students’ donated internal organs.
Read more about the desire for more time as a theme.
Kathy continues to express her frustration with Ruth’s pretenses, lashing out when Ruth pretends to have read Daniel Deronda. However, Kathy again expresses her frustration through subtle hints rather than direct confrontation. She changes the topic to Ruth’s imitation of the veterans’ affectionate arm-slapping gesture, labeling it as another form of pretense. In dismissing the gesture that Ruth uses to express affection towards Tommy, Kathy also hints that her own interest in Tommy is another underlying source of tension with Ruth. While Kathy begins to have sex at the Cottages, she never becomes part of a couple. Her intermittent sexual encounters with the veterans are purely physical in nature. Ruth’s indirect comment about Kathy’s one-nighters reinforces this tension, highlighting her own status as part of a couple while drawing on Kathy’s insecurities about her sexual urges. Kathy’s reflections on this conversation also show how much her friendship with Ruth relied on unspoken expectations about their behavior. Although Kathy believes that these expectations were mutual, the degree to which Ruth actually shared her unspoken assumptions is unclear.
Read more about Ruth’s attempts to fit in at the cottages.