This review is spoiler-free!
‘The Sun always has ways to reach us.’
From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.
In Klara and the Sun, his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly-changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?
Klara and the Sun was so well marketed in the weeks leading up to its March publication that it caught my eye early on. With the vibrant orange of its cover, and slated as a title from a Nobel Prize winner, I was beyond excited by the time March 2nd arrived. A dystopian, science-fiction novel from the author of Never Let Me Go – which was famously adapted into a film starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield in 2010 – Klara and the Sun is written from the perspective of its title character, an Artificial Friend (AF). Very early on it becomes clear why Klara, with her observant, matter-of-fact, yet excitable approach to life, has been called an ‘unforgettable narrator.’ Klara firmly guides the reader through the unpredictable tale of her life (or perhaps existence) as an AF – a robot whose sole purpose is to combat the loneliness of children and teens, and to keep them healthy and safe. In some ways, Klara and the Sun reads a lot like her memoir, or her (auto)biography.
Klara, on sale in an AF store, awaiting the day she will be purchased, has such a freshly unique outlook on the technologically advanced world just beyond the store’s front window. Set in an alternative, futuristic society, Klara’s world is so peculiar and unique that one can’t help but feel intrigued by it all. With exceptional worldbuilding and deeply descriptive writing Ishiguro throws the reader in the deep-end; dashing terms like ‘oblong’, ‘lifted’, and ‘interaction meeting’ at us as if we already know what they mean. But, as with most things, context is key, and by writing in this way the reader is left to connect the dots on their own. Guided by Klara’s deep respect and adoration for the Sun, and all his ‘special help’ and array of patterns, as well as her devotion to those around her, this novel constitutes a rather poignant story about familial love and friendship – and the lengths people will go to for those that they care about. Ishiguro’s writing makes for an incredibly moreish tale, and he makes it so easy for the reader to get attached to Klara, for all the light and possibility she brings to her loved ones. Becoming invested in her as a character felt inevitable. The ending is particularly poignant as there is an element of closure and peace in it for Klara and, by extension, the reader.
Highly-anticipated by both myself and others, Klara and the Sun does not disappoint. Klara is an exceptional protagonist living in an unbelievably idiosyncratic world full of ‘lifted’ and ‘unlifted’ children, oblongs, and Red Shelves; one in which robots and humans seem to have rather symbiotic relationships. In Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro completely reframes the genre of dystopian science-fiction by restructuring what one has come to expect from it: the despair; the desperation; the futurism; the love. This novel is such an enchanting and immersive read led by an exceptionally strong-willed and kind-hearted (artificial) girl that it easily earns five out of five stars.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s other works include the famous Never Let Me Go, The Buried Giant, and The Unconsoled.