I’ve soldiered through Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro waiting to be gripped by a revelation of the kind that Ishiguro’s excellent Never Let Me Go offered. There is a revelation, sort of, but it comes late and there’s too much treading water before you get there to sustain interest. Strangely, I felt very similar to what I did while reading Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, a sense of boredom combined with a sense of obligation to keep reading this Nobel Prize winning author whose earlier books Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, I loved.
Klara is an AF, Artificial Friend, a robot made as human as human can be. She looks perfectly human, she speaks and moves like a human, she can even read feelings. The occasional pixellation of her vision is pretty much the only thing reminding us that she’s a robot. Paradoxically, she’s by far the most lovable character in this entire story.
Klara is bought by Josie, a young girl suffering from a mysterious illness which Josie’s sister Sal appears to have died of. Josie’s mum Chrissie is a mixture of pushy, nervous and controlling, seemingly traumatised by the loss of her other child. Josie has been ‘lifted’, a genetic modification that gives academic advantages but comes with a high prize health-wise. Her boyfriend Ricky is not among the ‘lifted’ and as a result, a second-class citizen.
As in Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro drip-feeds us information. It’s confusing at first and is presumably meant to pique our curiosity and – it’s true – there’s plenty to be curious about. Why did Chrissie and Josie buy Klara? What happened to Sal? What is the mysterious illness Josie is suffering from? Where are the men? Why is Ricky treated so badly?
So why was I so un-curious? The issue is that the drip-feed is too slow to sustain curiosity, not until two-thirds into the book do the pieces start to fall into place; by that time, I had lost the urge to find out. Maybe it’s the repetitive writing? Or is it the lack of spark? Or perhaps it’s originality that just feels too measured, too calculated.
At the core of this book lies an interesting question, though: Can computers replace humans? Can robots be made to have a ‘heart’? And if they could, how would humans deal with that? We hear about computers being able to write books and make art, activities that involve feelings and imagination normally considered to lie beyond the power of computers, so perhaps Ishiguro’s future in this book is not so far away?
I suspect this will be one of those books which reviewers applaud, as they already have, but the public finds hard to digest. For all it’s interesting intentions, I just didn’t capture my imagination. I’d love to hear what other hear what other readers think about this book. If you have thoughts please let us know on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro is published by Faber & Faber, 320 pages.