So this book was an impulse buy. I saw the hardback at Waterstones with £3 off and it was just so pretty. Plus, Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature and I’d never read anything by him before, so had to have it. It was on my “near future” TBR until I read andtheIToldYouSos’s lovely review, which catapulted it straight to my “next read” slot. 🙂
Let me start a quick summary of the book: Klara is an AF, or Artificial Friend, who are sun-powered androids sold to be companions to children. We follow her journey through her eyes, from her beginning in the store with “manager”, to her life with Josie, the 13-year-old girl who chose her, navigating her relationship with the people in Josie’s life (the mother, father, housekeeper, friends) and Josie’s mysterious illness until the end of Klara’s life.
I had some intensely mixed feelings about this book. This is an extremely slow-paced book. It’s more of a character study that a plot-driven story being told and it to me it was at equal measures beautiful and infuriating. It stuck with me for a while though, so I recommend it if you enjoy meandering through characters lives without ever feeling like you can see the full picture.
I am going to go into spoilers for this book, so if you want to read it, I bid you farewell.
In case you have already read and feel like discussing it with me as I delve into the things I enjoyed and did not, welcome. There will be spoilers from here on down. 🙂
First of all, the good AI is a trope I adore, and Klara was so pure and lovable and a joy to spend tie with. Her childlike thoughts made even the most mundane things seem wondrous, while maintaining a balance with how exceptionally perceptive she was. This was a double-edged sword to me, because it became almost ridiculous how without proper instruction or information, Klara just made the most flawed assumptions and lived her life according to those, which drove me up the wall (no Klara, the sun is not a sentient being).
Despite that, I think Ishiguro did a wonderful job making not only Klara and Josie believable characters, but also the supporting characters. All of the characters were flawed and most, except perhaps for Klara, were morally gray. I specially appreciated the portrayal of the mother, who I personally found to be a despicable human being, but still compelling.
Additionally, I think the deeper discussion the book elicited on the emotional sentience of artificial intelligence exquisite. Clearly all the humans viewed Clara as a thing, a means to an end. This was clearly exemplified by how the mother planed to simply replace her consciousness in the Josie doll, or how they expected her to be okay with living inside a closet, to even her end, at what I understood to be a junkyard. But as we get to experience the book through Klara’s eyes, we know that despite her limitations she feels deeply, and has more humanity in her than most of the other characters put together. All other characters hurt Klara on purpose over and over again and she couldn’t see it and I wanted to hurt all of them. This book elicited an emotional response in me.
The thing that bugged me so much though is that, because we were limited by Klara’s view of the world, we did not get the worldbuilding this story deserved. I assume this limitation was done on purpose, and we were reminded of it by the exceptionally portrayed moment when Klara tries to walk to the barn, and gets stuck because her vision seems to separate light and shadow into different blocks and she could therefore not see what was really in front of her. This was an interesting choice on Ishiguro’s part, but it left me feeling unsatisfied.
Here are the things I need answers to that I will never get:
- Josie’s illness: what was it? Was it caused by the “lifting” process? How did she get cured?
- What is the lifting process? How do you edit the genes of a child that is already developed? Why would you do it, and why would you not?
- Is there a resistance against the lifting process? It’s mentioned that the Father lives within a fringe movement, what are fighting? The lifting? The AFs? What does this society look like?
- What was wrong with Rick’s mother?
- And finally, why the actual fuck does everyone just accept Klara’s bizarre requests to do things that will “help Josie” even though it makes absolutely no sense? Carry her to a barn? Destroy private property? Sure, that will clearly fix a teenage girl’s degenerative disease… really, that makes sense.
Okay, this rant went on longer than I expected. In case you’ve read this book, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you didn’t read the book, but still stuck with me through this review, I think you should still go and read the book despite knowing all that happens, it should still be enjoyable to experience.
BINGO: Rec’d by the lovely