What makes a person a person? What makes us different from anyone else? These are the questions Ishiguro raises as Klara, an android, is bought by terminally-ill Josie. As Josie’s health declines, Klara’s understanding of the world is rocked, and she must fight to maintain hope and faith even as she is learning the meaning of human connection.
Genre: Literary Fiction / Science Fiction
Content warnings: depictions of grief and loss, death of a child, terminal illness
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: thinking about life and the future
But however hard I tried, I believe now there would have remained something beyond my reach.
Ishiguro embeds within the novel a number of existential questions, which he attempts to answer through Klara’s exploration of the world and humanity. The plot is driven by these questions and criticisms, yet it maintains a coherent, cohesive and engaging storyline. The plot itself is highly engaging, and the use of plot-twists is done very successfully. There are enough hints leading up to the twist that it makes sense but still takes the reader by surprise. However, there are a number of places where it feels like Ishiguro doesn’t fully carry through the questions he is raising and instead drops them to comment on something else.
The pacing was never exactly too slow, and there was always something happening, but it felt like Klara spent an unnecessary amount of time in the store. I understand it was important for worldbuilding and characterisation, but I feel like a lot of it could have been cut or compressed. As a result, the primary plot did not begin until surprisingly far into the book. Other than that, the progression of time and events was very even, speeding up near the end of the book as tension built and slowing down enough at the very end to provide a satisfying conclusion.
Ishiguro aims to explore the nature of humanity and what makes a person an individual as well as what separates humanity from machines. He intermingles this with an exploration of loneliness and human connection. He does this very successfully, with each plot point either raising or answering one of these questions. This forms a cohesive commentary on modern society, yet avoids the cynical, bleak futures often depicted by classical sci-fi. Instead, he recognises that humanity rarely changes and will continue to remain as nuanced in the future as it is today.
Ishiguro’s writing style is easy to read and absorb, which I think makes the message itself easier to absorb. Often books which purport to have great meaning will be written very densely or using difficult language, but Ishiguro recognises the importance of accessibility for his readers.
Ishiguro provides a cast of strong and highly nuanced characters who contribute to his exploration of the nature of humanity. Even more remarkable is his depiction of relationships. He depicts a range of relationships, many of which are highly underrepresented within literature, including contrasting longlasting childhood friendship to new friendship, mother-daughter relationships, relationships within a divorced family, groups of teenagers who do not like each other, a child and their non-parental caregiver, and many more. The different ways the characters act within each relationship is highly realistic and demonstrates great depth of character.
Ishiguro never explicitly describes many of the elements looked for when considering diversity within a story. No characters have an explicitly identified ethnicity, which doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t diverse but does not provide representation either. Similarly, there is no explicit identification of any characters in the LGBTQIA+ community or disabled people. Josie is, however, part of a divorced family, which provides representation of a kind of family not commonly seen in the media or otherwise made a primary plot point. I like that here it is just accepted as fact and moved past. Ishiguro also provides representation of chronic illness through Josie, which is another kind of diversity not often considered within fiction. However, there is a fundamental lack of substantive representation.
While this novel certainly wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed reading it, and I loved how it made me think about the world in more detail. It is a profound but relaxing read and has something in it for everybody. I would highly recommend it to anyone who asks.