A disappointing work by a literary master

Cover of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, showing an illustration of a hand with a sun in it.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to reading Klara and the Sun after all the accolades it’s gotten. I thought Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day was a masterpiece and was excited to read a thoughtful, emotional science-fiction novel from him. Instead, I found a competent but fairly cliched story that, to my surprise, wasn’t particularly insightful or even very involving.

The novel adopts common outsider tropes from children’s literature and adult works like Jerzy Kosiński‘s Being There. In this case, an “artificial friend” for 14-year old Josie doesn’t quite understand our world, thus providing a gateway to insights into humanity and our society. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t seem to have anything deeper to say beyond the cliched “people are bad” and “we’re destroying the world” themes that are so common in contemporary literature and popular culture these days. There is an interesting hint of a brilliantly dark plot possibility (skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want a hint of a spoiler): Josie’s mom has a plan for Klara that would have made a much more interesting novel had Ishiguro put in the effort to play it out. Instead, the book veers into a facile, childish story of faith involving the sun.

In reading this, I was reminded me of The Giving Tree, a children’s book about another selfless entity that seems to really touch people but that I never appreciated. Perhaps if you liked that, you’ll find this touching and meaningful. I was left unsatisfied. Because of the constraints of telling the story from Klara’s point of view–a technique that I didn’t always find convincing–you never get a true sense of what anyone is thinking and feeling, except perhaps Josie’s mom. With all the time Klara spent with Josie, you’d think we’d have more insight into her thoughts and personality, but she seemed every bit as one-dimensional as Klara to me. Many in the story have secrets, and these are revealed in a carefully paced way calculated, as in a YA novel, to keep the story moving.

In the end, I wish this great writer had thought through the conflicts and contradictions of the world he was creating, dug deeper into the characters and played out all the implications rather than just falling into a simple, cliched story. Philip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which the movie Blade Runner was loosely based on, comes to mind as a book with similar themes that may not have been as well written, but was certainly more thoughtful and involving–and that was published more than 55 years ago.