Klara and The Sun: a Book Review

This last week, life has once more got in the way of my non-resolution plan to read through my Christmas book haul. Having made good progress on the first half dozen books, my pace has slowed a little with my latest choice Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. On the plus side, what has been getting in the way of me reading has been the chance to travel and get out of the house more, so I cannot complain too much.

With Klara, it was a welcome return to a novel after the previous couple of books being non-fiction. However, with only 1 more novel left on the pile, it is going to be a fairly non-fiction heavy time for me in the next couple of months.

For my next book, I have chosen The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr which should be interesting as it combines two of my passions into one subject. First, let me give you my thoughts on Klara and The Sun

Klara and The Sun

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the first book I have read by Kazuo Ishiguro, and given he was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, alongside a string of awards before and since, I had high expectations of this book. I cannot say I was disappointed, but maybe a little deflated.

The story is told from the perspective of Klara, a robot from the not too distant future who is bought by a single mother for her sickly daughter as a companion and friend. Throughout the book, Klara learns more about the world around her, developing her own rather eccentric views of how the world works, while at the same time being a faithful company to her human friend/owner.

Touching on themes of friendship and loneliness, technology and the impact on humanity, Klara and The Sun reminded me throughout of Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, so much so I could imagine them inhabiting a shared universe. While I thoroughly enjoyed Mockingbird, Klara and The Sun felt at best OK. It is certainly not the worst book I have ever read, but equally it has not left me wanting to read more of Ishiguro’s work, and for me that is telling.

What I really liked

  1. The concept, namely telling the story entirely from the point of view of a robot, felt fresh and interesting. Ishiguro was able to cleverly weave the literal, binary workings of a machine into a narrative which included passion and emotion, with Klara having just enough humanity to make the book readable to a living, breathing audience.
  2. The setting of the book felt suitably bleak and pseudo-apocalyptic, with wealthy individuals living in relative, if lonely, comfort, alongside the homeless and working poor who do what needs to be done to get by.
  3. The subtle hints to the problems we experience in our own world (inequality, technological overload) are carefully weaved throughout the book, leaving me reasonably confident I know Ishiguro’s position on the likes of robots replacing workers for example, but there remains just enough doubt to keep it intriguing and avoid the reader feeling like they are being lectured to.

The less good bits

  1. Unfortunately the biggest issue for me was Klara herself. Supposedly a robot capable of perfectly mimicking a human being and having access to a computer brain capable of learning and remembering essentially everything, Klara is presented as naive to the point of it being ludicrous, and at times she is painfully wrong about an even basic understanding of the world. A robot which needs to learn I can understand, but in a world which appears to still have the internet for downloading, the idea such a fantastic piece of machinery would be so naive felt too anachronistic and distracted me from the story.
  2. The second big issue, the sci-fi element of the book. Given the robotic technology, and other advanced technologies such as gene editing, mentioned throughout the book, the rest of the world and it’s tech felt too similar to what already exists today. People communicate still on oblong devices (phones) and the apparently cutting edge tech is a group of drones flying in formation. Given countries such as China can already fly thousands of drones in formation without much trouble, it felt like little effort had been put into creating a world removed from our own. I would not have expected spaceships and laser guns, but something a little more imaginative than the iPhone would have been nice.

Summary

Klara and The Sun was an enjoyable read for the most part, which I feel it was held back by the fictional technology of the time. As I had said above I am not left wanting to read more of Ishiguro’s work, so maybe that is a good sign the work was just OK.

Who should read this book? Existing fans of Ishiguro I am sure will like Klara. Similarly I’m sure fans of Walter Tevis will not fail to see the similarities. I can also imagine this book would appeal to those who are interested in science fiction but are put off by the likes of space battles and galactic empires such as you find in the Foundation series for example. For those people, Klara and The Sun is probably worth a look.

Have you read Klara and The Sun or got it on the TBR pile? What did you think of the book, especially the use of technology and Klara herself? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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