Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo IshiguroPublished 2021 340 pages
Ishiguro is a master of creating alienated, inhuman, desperately lonely futures in which everyone's sort of come to terms with being sad and lonely and alienated. In this story, much as in Never Let Me Go, the protagonist is some other, a less-than-real-person created to prop up the structures of alienation—but who, from their position, is able to pick out what makes everyone else fundamentally human.
The Ishiguro hallmarks are all here: simple prose, quiet insight, the sense of looking back into a past with a sense of wistful acceptance. The comparisons to Never Let Me Go come hard and fast here, but I think that by making Klara even less human than Kathy, the humanism of the book stands out in greater detail.
Klara and the Sun is also a book about hope, but here it diverges from Never Let Me Go: whereas Kathy's outlook for most of the book is negative, hoping despite herself, Klara is unabashedly optimistic, to the point of infallible confidence—but the story doesn't punish her for it. I think that I prefer this perspective. At one point, Klara makes a secret deal of which she's so confident that she wins over the people around her, even as they give into their uncertainty.
Uncertainty's a big theme in the book as well: as Anne Enright points out in her review for The Guardian, the gap between what Klara knows and what the reader knows grows over the course of the novel—but that gap is the "gentle opposite of irony—it is compassion." The humans in the book are also notoriously uncertain—uncertain of what's going to happen to Josie, uncertain about how to make connections with each other, uncertain about what they want. Whereas Klara's ignorant of the political realities of her world, the humans are alienated from themselves and from each other—and that's just where Klara comes in.
What else to say? Ishiguro's very readable—Klara and the Sun can easily be finished over a weekend, though it's probably stick with you for a while afterwards. Easy recommendation.