Review of ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’d seen so many mixed reviews of this book that I wasn’t expecting to love it. Guess what? I didn’t love it. There are similarities to Never Let Me Go but I thought the writing and story were not as skilfully done. However, it’s certainly the kind of book which you’ll be thinking about for ages afterward.

The narrator is Klara, an Artificial Friend (an android, although this word isn’t used). She’s designed to be a teenager’s companion and is in a shop window, waiting to be bought. Eventually she’s chosen by Josie, a girl who has an unspecified illness, and goes to live with her. There isn’t much of a plot, as the majority of the text comprises Klara’s observations of her surroundings, people’s conversations and expressions. Sometimes these are interesting, sometimes they are very mundane. They do help to put a new perspective on human relationships, yet there isn’t as much of an emotional punch as you might expect. What frustrated me is that whenever something seems about to happen, it goes nowhere. The writing style is not so riveting that I can ignore the uneventful plot. Moreover, the concept didn’t seem that original, being reminiscent of the film AI: Artificial Intelligence (which was based on a Brian Aldiss short story).

If you prefer to see the novel as a fable, perhaps it works better that way. Otherwise, as a story set in the near future, it doesn’t seem credible. Klara is solar-powered and believes the sun is a god who can be prayed to. Her belief in him is a central element of the book. I think it highly unlikely that an android created to interact with teenagers – teenagers, moreover, who have been genetically enhanced to excel at the sciences – would have such a limited intelligence that it doesn’t know what the sun really is.

I would still recommend that you read this book and consider for yourself whether it’s worth the hype. I think it would translate well to film and probably improve upon the book, if done sensitively (as with Never Let Me Go).

Published in 2021.

9 thoughts on “Review of ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro”

  1. Your point about reading this as a fable sounds like good advice. I’m looking forward to reading this myself as generally love this author’s books.

  2. Interesting review! I gave up reading Kazuo Ishiguro years ago, I think after The Remains of the Day. I think I bought The Unconsoled, tried to read it and then gave up LOL!! and never went back to Ishiguro. I guess I also have a real problem with authors of literary fiction attempting themes that have been done so much better before – both science fiction and crime – and then critics treating their books as something new and marvelous. I’m probably getting really old and grumpy LOL!! but when I’m told that a new literary novel is posing deep and remarkable questions I usually start laughing out loud. It could be I got out of the bed on the wrong side today. Or it could be I’m not smart enough to understand the questions being posed by most literary fiction….. Either way, glad you read the book for me so I don’t have to read it! (I must be in a really bad mood today!)

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment, Laurence 🙂 The only other books I’ve read by Ishiguro are The Remains of the Day (years and years ago) and Never Let Me Go. I agree with what you say about literary authors trying their hand at science fiction and crime, there is rarely a satisfying result. Even if you did get out of bed on the wrong side today, it’s an opinion that rings true. I find that literary fiction tends to make me feel stupid for not understanding what’s so great about the book – in fact, I have a blog post coming up about what literary fiction is, which you can look forward to 🙂

  3. Haven’t tried this one yet. Another writer just compared it to Pinocchio (a book I love, actually), only the artificial friend doesn’t get to become real.

    1. That’s interesting, I didn’t think of it as a Pinocchio story… perhaps there is a parallel, although the character Klara has no apparent wish to be real. The film AI: Artificial Intelligence has a Pinocchio theme.

  4. Great review! It sounds like we more or less agree on this one. It’s a shame, because there was potential in this story to become so much more, but as you say, most of the threads lead absolutely nowhere. I thought Klara was well-written, though.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it could have been differently done. I did get a good sense of some things in the story but it wasn’t enough to make up for the meandering style.

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