Klara and the Sun (Review)

If you’re versed in science fiction, there’s nothing new here. On the contrary, this novel follows many tropes present in recent movies, shows, and games. To be honest, by a surface-level review I think this book could even be considered a rip-off from David Cage’s video game Detroit: Become Human. One of the protagonists in that video game is an android named Kara who is bought by a girl and brought into a troubled household. Kazuo Ishiguro’s protagonist is an android named Klara who is bought by a girl and brought into a troubled household.

In Ishiguro’s “defense,” the concept (and even the name of the android) is generic and trite enough that I wouldn’t call it plagiarism. It’s just two guys being unoriginal. No crime in that. Ishiguro does refrain himself though from making the beaten question of “can artificial intelligence rival human thought?” into the central pillar and opts for a more subtle exploration.

The story has a lot of small tidbits that hint at a larger world where class-conflict has escalated because of artificial intelligence, genetic modification runs rampant, and environmental deterioration looms over. I understand the strategy of giving the reader small drops of information and letting them build their own world, but in this case it just felt frustrating. I wanted to read more about the topics mentioned above than the protagonist’s journey.

When I let go of the plot and look at the writing, I get mixed results. The narrator is an android. A robot. It follows that Ishiguro wrote the prose in a way he thinks artificial intelligence could think. What happens is that the writing sometimes feels clunky as Ishiguro tries to remind the reader that the entity narrating isn’t a human being. This is especially apparent in the repetitive adjectives and the “box system” through which the android views the world. This is balanced, however, with excellent dialogue from the supporting characters in the novel. There is one scene in particular set in a theater where all the characters interact with the protagonist that I thought was incredibly done and could only have been pulled off with an android as the narrator.

I really liked the sun’s role in the book. You could even say it’s a minor character, and it served as a vehicle to showcase supporting themes like religion and the meaning of hope, two topics that I think Ishiguro writes beautifully about.

One of Ishiguro’s goals, I think, was to make the human interactions the central aspect of the novel and have the android narrator serve as a filter to everything and distill the raw emotions present in the people of this particular world. But as I said, this world isn’t fleshed out enough to reach this goal.

Expectations always run high when a writer of this caliber delivers a work. Sometimes they surpass, reach, or miss. In this case, Ishiguro misses by a small enough margin that still makes this a worthwhile read if you enjoy the genre and a great read if we were using different standards.

Klara and the Sun published in March 2021.

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