Klara and the Sun - Kazuo Ishiguro
Loved it overall. Ishiguro in his finest. It reminded me greatly of Never Let Me Go, which is one of my favorite books. But it may be even too similar in a way.
Very touching, atmospheric. Intricate world building, very thought-provoking, filled with infinite kindness.
The story is told from the point of view of Klara, an "AF" robot. It's soon explained that AF stands for Artificial Friend. She "lives" in a store, has a friend AF called Rosa, and the store is operated by human Manager with whom they seem to have very good relationship.
Klara loves looking through the window and admires the Sun, which powers her. Once she sees a homeless man and his dog lie motionless for over a day (dead?), but then the Sun sends them "special nutrition" that brings them back to life.
While standing near the window, Klara meets a girl, Josie. Josie promises to come back for Klara. Klara likes her very much and wants it to happen. The girl then comes again in a few days, but again she promises to come back next day. She doesn't come for some time, though, but Klara keeps waiting. She even avoids getting picked by some other teenager, and it makes the manager upset. The manager reminds Klara that it's up to the teenager to pick an AF, not the other way around, and that children make all sorts of promises, but more often than not they don't keep them. Nevertheless, the girl comes back with her mother and picks Klara. Before they leave, the mother tests Klara's ability to notice things about Josie and imitate her. It's mentioned that Klara's exceptionally perceptive. Josie promises Klara a view from her window to the sunset and taking care of her, but warns her that sometimes she's not herself. Klara doesn't mind, and they leave.
Klara now lives with Josie, Mother and housekeeper Melania. She goes outside for the first time and meets Josie's friend, Rick, who's a teenager around her age, who likes playing with his drones. Rick lives in the only neighboring house with his mother. It is mentioned that Rick, unlike many (most?) other teenagers is not "lifted". The meaning of it is not explained, but it's implied that it makes Rick somewhat inferior. Otherwise, Rick seems to be an intelligent teenager. Rick and Josie have some "plan" for their future, which probably implies building their lives together somehow.
A meeting is setup by Josie's mother to socialize with some teenagers. Rick is invited too, but it is generally considered strange because he is not lifted. Klara attends too, and other teenagers are being somewhat mean to her due to Klara's reluctance to interact with them without explicit approval by Josie. Josie meanwhile acts distant and is being mean to Klara too, saying that perhaps she should've gotten a different AF model. Rick doesn't like her tendency to act differently in presence of some people.
Josie turns out to be sick and she's getting weaker. It's mentioned that she had a sister who died, but Josie says it was different. The family was arranging a trip to waterfalls, but it doesn't happen due to Josie's weakness. Instead, Mother goes together with Klara, and opens up about her fears for Josie, and asks Klara to pretend to be Josie, which Klara supposedly does very well.
While Josie's getting worse and everyone is afraid for her, Klara decides to act by asking Sun's help. With Rick's help, she goes to a barn where she expects the Sun to go down, and makes a "pact" with it that it will send that special nutrition to Josie as it did for the homeless man and his dog, and it return Klara will destroy a machine that pollutes the air in the city.
Rick wants to attend a university, but it is very hard to do because he is not "lifted" - there are very few universities that would even accept his application. Rick doesn't even want to try, but his mother asks Klara to help him.
Klara, Josie, Mother, Father, Rick and Rick's mother go to a city. Rick's family's agenda is to meet his mother's old lover and ask him a favor in helping Rick to get into a university. He's impressed with Rick, but angry with Rick's mother. Rick eventually declines any help from him. It is revealed that "lifting" means genetically enhancing.
Josie, Klara, Mother and Father meet someone who makes a "portrait" of Josie. It is revealed to Klara that the portrait is an AF looking like Josie, and Josie is supposed to "fill" it and act like Josie if she dies. They tried doing the same in the past for Josie's sister, but it didn't work out. They expect it to work out better this time because Klara imitates Josie perfectly. Father confronts the "artist" - the artist believes there's nothing in human beings that can't be copied, but Father believes that there is. He later confesses that he's not so sure anymore.
With Father's help, Klara destroys the pollution machine, sacrificing some liquid she needs to function. It's mentioned that Father lost his job due to being displaced by someone (lifted? robots?) but he's trying to find his peace with it.
Josie only gets worse, and Klara makes another attempt to beg Sun for help. She promises the Sun that Klara and Rick love each other and are destined to be together. Eventually, the Sun sends the "special nutrition", and Josie gets better.
Not only she gets better, but she also grows up almost immediately. She soon leaves to university leaving Klara behind. Soon Klara ends up in some graveyard for AFs loosing her conscience. There she meets Manager and reckons about her life.
- Being left behind.
- Not finding one's place in the world.
After learning about the "portrait", I thought "lifting" meant "being transferred to a robot".
Still not quite sure about "special nourishment". "Maybe".
The structure of the world is revealed gradually and never completely; the same as for all other fantasy-ish works of Ishiguro. But unlike, say, Never Let Me Go, things are revealed somehow more directly and less shockingly.
It's funny how robots don't seem very scientifically literate and are religious in their own way.
Some readers on Goodreads complain about absence of a plot twist, but it would be a bit strange if there was. I don't think Ishiguro really tried to write Never Let Me Go all over again. Well, at least not exactly.
As with Never Let Me Go, one of the enormous pleasures of Klara and the Sun is the way Ishiguro only drip-feeds to the reader hints and suggestions about the shape of this futuristic world, the reasons for its strangeness. We are left to do much of the imagining ourselves, and this makes the novel a satisfyingly collaborative read.