Like many of Ishiguro's novels, Klara and the Sun has a feel of the future while at the same time feeling very current, as if we are reading about something that is happening now, but somewhere else. Already there are robots with human characteristics that help us with our daily lives so to have an almost sentient one in the role of child's friend and companion isn't such a wild idea.
Klara is an artificial intelligence friend, or AF, and the story is told from her perspective ('her' not 'it') from when she first appears in the shop window. From there she observes all aspects of life via the view into the street, from a homeless man and his dog to obviously privileged people going about their daily lives. Initially this part of the book seems overly long, but the events are referenced later on. Eventually Klara is purchased by a mother for her sickly daughter.
Set in the United States in an unspecified time, this explains why the phrasing is somewhat American and the spelling definitely is (considering written by a British citizen and published by a British publisher this is a tad confusing). The typical stilted narrative is perfect as the robot's voice as she observes - her specialism - everything that goes on in the little girl's life.
There is an aura of sadness and fatalism throughout the book, where people are divided and ridiculed by levels wealth and education as they always have been and probably always will be. Moral choices that question what it is to be human. However, there is hope in the form of the sun, which is the life force of the solar-powered Klara, which she believes gives nourishment to all. To the AF, the sun is a deity and in that sense civilisation as come full circle.
A clever, thoughtful novel that is far too close to reality for comfort. Recommended.
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021
Published by Faber & Faber on 2 March 2021.
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