Klara is an AF, an “Artificial Friend”. She is in a store awaiting purchase. AFs are powered, or receive nourishment, from the sun. So, the manager of the store rotates the AFs so that they take turns in the front store window and receive the sunlight. However, Klara does not just enjoy the sunlight, she enjoys observing the street and all the wondrous thigs that go on outside her world in the shop.
The novel is set in the future, but we are never given knowledge as to just how far into the future. The technology to create the AFs must be extremely advanced but this is a theme that is never explored. In fact, the reader is told nothing about their history, they are just dropped into the narrative from the beginning.
Klara, although the same model as the other AFs, seems to be able to absorb, notice, and take interest in so much more than the others. More inquisitive and curious. Unlike Rosa, another AF, Klara strives to understand human emotion. When she spies two taxi drivers fighting in the street, she witnesses human anger for the first time. And yet Rosa, who also watches from the window thinks they are just playing, not understanding their anger at all. We, along with the owner of the store realize that Klara is different.
Ishiguro explores the issues of class with some children being “lifted” a term used to describe a child who has been genetically enhanced. It also seems that the world has become ultra-competitive for those who have not been “lifted” being left behind. However, this genetic enhancement comes at a fearful cost with many children not surviving the procedure, eventually just dying a slow death. Their bodies just running out of energy. This is what happens to Josie.
One day Josie comes to the window and tells Klara that she is the AF she wants. This is what all AFs want to hear, their whole purpose of being. Three days later Josie returns and tells Klara that she is the AF she wants but only if Klara is happy. The third time Josie and her mum return they purchase Klara.
As we know Josie is slowly dying from the enhancement and that her sister died before her. Then, we find out that Klara is being groomed to replace Josie if she dies. An AF is being created in Josie’s image and Klara is supposed to move her consciousness into the Josie AF, after learning everything about her.
This is where the waters start to muddy. Can Klara impersonate Josie perfectly? The parents know that it is not “truly” Josie. What makes us who we are? Do we have a unique soul? Do not our memories and experiences make us the individual we are? Klara would know her mannerisms but at best Klara would just be a simulacrum. Would this be sufficient for a parent? I don’t think so. But then I have never been through the pain of losing a child. I can understand the mother and father not wanting to go through the devastation a second time.
Josie is also a very bright young girl. Does she suspect what Klara’s true role is? How would she feel? What choice would you make, if it would continue to keep you, in some form at least, “alive” for your parents.
Whatever the case it makes for a great novel and a very interesting read. The story is told from Klara’s perspective and the irony is that she, an Artificial Friend, seems to have more love and empathy for Josie than anybody. Is programmed love more powerful than real love?
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro (カズオ・イシグロ or 石黒 一雄), OBE, FRSA, FRSL is a British novelist of Japanese origin and Nobel Laureate in Literature (2017). His family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative writing course in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982. He now lives in London.
His first novel, A Pale View of Hills, won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, won the 1986 Whitbread Prize. Ishiguro received the 1989 Man Booker prize for his third novel The Remains of the Day. His fourth novel, The Unconsoled, won the 1995 Cheltenham Prize. His latest novel is The Buried Giant, a New York Times bestseller. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017.
His novels An Artist of the Floating World (1986), When We Were Orphans (2000), and Never Let Me Go (2005) were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of "The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945". In 2017, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, describing him in its citation as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world"