30 July 2021

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

It seems hard to believe this is only my second Kazuo Ishiguro book, but after reading Never Let Me Go I knew I'd be interested in anything he puts out. My amazing UNB coworker Lindsey gave me a $25 gift card to Indigo and I saw this beautiful cover piled with dozens of other copies. I had no idea Ishiguro released a new book (March 2021) and decided to go for it. It was listed as $25, so it felt like a sign.

Klara and the Sun is just over 300 pages long and feels similar to Never Let Me Go in that its "light science fiction." I describe it as that because while science fiction is a central to the story, it still feels like its riding in the back seat. 

Never Let Me Go was about clones, but I think they only used that word once. Klara and the Sun is about artificial intelligence and focuses on an "AF" (artificial friend) named Klara. The AFs look essentially the same as any other child, but come in different models. Similar to an iPhone, there is always the newest product with different features. Klara is an older model, but has "exceptional observational skills and empathy." 

Our generation still carry the old feelings. A part of us refuses to let go. The part that wants to keep believing there's something unreachable inside each of us. Something that's unique and won't transfer. But there's nothing like that, we know that now. You know that. For people our age it's a hard one to let go."

Klara is eventually bought and taken to live as an AF for a young girl named Josie. I immediately assumed something sinister happened at the house, but the book doesn't really take that turn. The main point of conflict is Josie's poor health. Josie's sister died unexpectedly and soon after her parents separated, as a result her mother is extremely overprotective. Josie spends a ton of time in bed trying to get well, but is still excited to have an AF of her own. 

Young Kazuo Ishiguro

The reader's point of view is always from Klara. Throughout the book it is stressed over and over again how great Klara's observational skills are. Everything Klara narrates seems objective and you have no reason to doubt it. The book is written kind of clinically to match up with Klara's analysis of all Josie's social interactions. 

Until recently, I didn't think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful than the wish to avoid loneliness."

Easily my favourite parts of this book are whenever Ishiguro really explores what makes humans unique. As technology advances, will there be a time where AI is indistinguishable from a living, breathing human being? It made me want to check out Steven Spielberg's A.I. (2001) because I believe it also centers on a child. 

I assumed I'd sob like a baby reading this book (as I did for both the book and movie version of Never Let Me Go), but I never got to that point. I enjoyed reading Klara and the Sun but am curious what critics with more experience reading Ishiguro thought of it. I would say I much preferred Never Let Me Go and am very interested in finally reading Remains of the Day

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