Ishiguro’s new novel picks up on some of the ideas and concerns visited in Never Let Me Go, but that novel now feels like something of a rehearsal for Klara and the Sun. In his latest novel, Ishiguro has perfected the limited-perspective narrative style and given us a marvellous new invention in Klara, an Artificial Friend. From the outset this time, we, and Klara, are aware of her distinctive status in a future obviously not too far distant to our own. She, like others in the store where we first meet her, are there to be bought so that they can provide companionship for children as they grow. Klara, despite not being the latest model, is an excellent AF, observant and diligent in her sense of duty. She is chosen by Josie, a young girl whose health is precarious. What follows is a moving examination of what love and duty mean. We become so attuned to Klara’s distinctive voice and thoughts that it comes as something of a shock when, on a visit into the city, a stranger refers rudely to Josie’s ‘machine’, and there’s an obvious question being set up here about the value of AI in our lives.
Klara has learnt early on that the Sun provides nourishment and believes he can perform miracles, ‘When we were new, we used to worry that because we often couldn’t see the Sun from mid-store, we’d grow weaker and weaker.‘ Her belief in the sun’s powers provides her with a touchingly naïve faith which sits at odds with the scientific advances that are shaping the lives of Josie and her teenage love, Rick. Oblique references to parental decisions regarding their children’s health and future opportunities remind us of the choices made when we try to improve outcomes for those we love without understanding or regarding possible consequences. The role of the sun in life itself is a clever reminder of what we’re turning our backs on. There’s also a distinct nod to Frankenstein in the plot, reminding us that this desire to use science because of those we love is not a new idea in literature.
Klara’s detached narrative voice allows us to see human behaviour at one remove but, because Klara is noted for her loyalty and acuity, she is able to perceive the feelings behind the actions. As such, she offers a touching outsider’s perspective on relationships and the way we are living our lives, reminding us that whatever else we may do to stuff up our world, there is still room for optimism. This is an excellent read.