Updated: Jan 12
Today, I'm reviewing a book that seems to polarize quite a bit. For what it's worth here's my take.
I enjoyed Klara and the Sun. The main protagonist intrigued me, and my sympathy for her probably started with her description as not being the most advanced model, but having something that the newer models lacked. That's a hook. This is a novel to be read carefully and on its own terms. Told in first person POV, we share with Klara the AF, the same clues concerning this future world. The pathos is that Klara is doing this for her own survival. From the start, we are aware of how vulnerable Klara is, despite her excellent capabilities, and her devotion to Josie who she looks after. Replaceability is a queasy touchstone of the world she inhabits, and one of the most salient themes of the story. Other weighty subjects include the nature of faith, being human, love and selflessness, loneliness and obsolescence, but these are seen through the experience of the AI construct who is just learning what the world is, and what its place in that world should be. The author has revealed in an interview that he started writing Klara and the Sun as a children’s story, before converting it into adult fiction. This makes sense since Klara’s understanding of the world is naïve, but he gives the character an atavistic twist by giving her a child’s magical relationship with her energy source, the sun. The barn becomes a symbol, among many others, of the spirituality and faith we move towards when we ask the universe for help to face the unknown. Some of the other personages in the book become psychological imagos for Klara, that idealize human qualities she's learning about. These lift the story onto a more symbolic plane of storytelling, and frankly I think that’s where Ishiguro loses people. Klara's incandescent intuitions of the midsection later give way to a flatness in Klara’s robotic dialogue, which gets harder to read as the novel reaches its conclusion. The book becomes darker in terms of message as we get to know the mother, and there is an ambiguity as to the fate of the real girl Klara is meant to protect. (Saying more would be a spoiler.) For one thing, it's unclear if there's a Pinocchio ending here as a payoff. This is perhaps why it’s especially heart-wrenching. Klara's arc dictates that she has her ‘fade away’, where all she has left to do is go through her memories “and place them in the right order”, something reminiscent of any person in their twilight years. She has done her job well, and yet she knows she has also failed. The sadness the reader might feel is a testament to how close to human Klara seems.