I was so excited when I saw the new Ishiguro on the bookshelf. His previous: The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go are wonderful books, full of insight and character that leave you thinking deep philosophical thoughts and spark great conversations.
Sadly, I found Klara and the Sun — seems almost sacrilegious to say so — boring.
It is the story of an AF (Artificial Friend) manufactured to babysit lonely kids — kind of similar to Never Let Me Go where clones (with feelings!) are bred to serve as spare parts. But whereas in Never Let Me Go I care deeply for the plight of the created beings, and with Klara I felt nothing. She doesn’t ask us to feel anything. She is described by another character as an ‘ironing board’, which sums up her personality pretty well.
These AFs are like Siri stepping out of the box to perform physical services, though only once is there a mention of unkind treatment and no mention of sex. I don’t know what happens to the world in dystopian times but I imagine in any era if you put a collection of young, attractive dolls in a shop who are programmed to make their owner happy in every possible way your customer base wont be mums shopping for a companion for their daughter.
Klara and the Sun feels like a science fiction novel written in the 1960s, with a poor imagination of how 2020 might look. The premise that our kids will have artificial friends and lead dysfunctional social lives isn’t really enough. Klara is a poor relation of Data (of Star Trek fame), but without his warmth and wry humour. Our Klara is not even powered by some futuristic energy source but by solar, and much is made of this: as if solar is ahead of us still (very ’60s) and, according to Klara (programmed with massive artificial intelligence) will be magic.
Things happen to the other characters, there is a sketchy sub plot about a sister — not enough to make us feel much. Perhaps the point is that in viewing the world through Klara’s fractured and mechanically clever eyes we see the growing lack of humanity in ourselves?
But hey, it’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I am quite prepared to give it a year, re-read it, and remain open to recognising all the subtleties that I may have missed. It is probably a damn good book. I just didn’t feel it.