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.