Kazuo Ishiguro’s eighth novel, Klara and the Sun, imagines a not-so-distant future in which technology has displaced much of the working population, enabled children to find companionship and supervision in artificial friends (AFs) like the title character Klara, and established something of a caste system that separates individuals who are “lifted” (a sort of genetic reprogramming to optimize performance) from those who are not. It is a strange landscape made stranger by Ishiguro’s trademark timbre — one he uses in all of his novels — which sits somewhere between clinical and stiffly polite. The novel is narrated by the robot Klara, and as such, we spend a fair amount of time aiming to understand what we are seeing by sizing up Klara’s own apprehension and its limits. Klara seems to puzzle over the intricacies of human interactions, for example, sometimes misreading intentions or proclamations, though this belabored analysis reifies the complexity of the human heart and how illegible and irrational it can be. There is a point in the novel in which we learn that Klara’s owner, “The Mother,” has hatched a plan in which Klara might eventually substitute for her own daughter, Josie, a sickly girl whose death at some points in the book feels imminent. The Mother asks whether Klara can learn Josie so well that she can not only mimic her movements (apparently Josie has an unusual gait) but occupy “her heart,” too. The subtext is whether we as humans are capable of understanding our own hearts — whether the heart is knowable or not, much less performable. There are many points in the novel that pose similarly complicated, earth-shifting questions about love, identity, and even religious belief. Klara, for example, believes unquestioningly in the beneficence of the sun. We are made to believe that this might be because Klara is solar-powered, and there is a sense that perhaps her worship is unfounded or confused. In various instances in the novel, Klara communes with the sun, begging for exception and intercession on behalf of Josie — and it is impossible not to see these petitions as a permutation of or analogue for religious faith. And so we must sit with the uncomfortable parallel between a robot exalting the sun and the foundations of our own belief systems.
The book is incredible in this way — asking difficult questions in an imaginative future that is uncomfortably believable in such a way that we find ourselves face-to-face with our own identities. There are also complicated interactions with desuetude as a condition of a society driven by advanced and artificial technologies: what does it mean when technology renders entire swathes of the workforce obsolete? What does it mean when humans can genetically modify themselves, and from a socio-economic lens, who does it leave behind? (And are they actually “left behind”? What is lost or gained in the “lifting” process?) What happens when humans are able to prolong a version of their loved ones through artificial intelligence? What is gained and lost there? All of these questions sit at the foreground of our minds throughout the novel thanks to the opening vignette, in which we witness Klara and other AFs waiting to be purchased move around the floor of a showroom as newer models come onto the market. Klara is in fact relegated to the back corner of the store, not even visible from the street, when she is purchased. What would have happened to this highly observant robot had she not been picked? At the end of the novel, we see Klara retire to what seems like a robot junk yard. We are forced in these instances to think about abandonment, waste, and obsolescence as a byproduct or perhaps inevitability of technology-centric living.
All in all, I would give this book high marks as a contender for a book club conversation (a lot to unpack), and a worthy read if you are in the mood to have a big, deep think. At the same time, it was an enormous and, if I am honest, unwelcome leap from Commonwealth for me. I make no bones about it: I am drawn to character-driven books, especially ones that are tender at the bone and generous to their own casts. Ishiguro felt like a cold, unpleasant wind to Patchett’s warm, hazy breeze. Next up for me: Ruth Ware’s Lying Game (I somehow skipped this one when it was released in 2017 but have thoroughly enjoyed all of Ware’s books!) and, because I have so loved Patchett’s other novels, Bel Canto.
Beyond that, I feel so out of the loop on what’s trending in the recent publications category! I’ve seen a few people reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits on the subway in the last week, but the description doesn’t hook me: “No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.”
What other new reads have captured you? What are you reading?
+One of my mom friends told me that her daughter asked her to “do her hair like Emory’s.” I was bowled over! So flattered! My secrets: condition with Noodle & Boo cream rinse after shampoo in the bath and then, in the morning, re-wet with water using a continuous mister and spritz with this detangler before styling. I find this brush exceptional. It is expensive (!!) but it lasts a lifetime and I feel like it’s gentle enough on her hair while also really contending with snarls. I honestly first bought it for myself without realizing it was marketed as a child’s brush, and I loved it for myself, but I eventually gave it to her because it made hair styling much easier with her. I also use this hair spray once I’ve tied her hair back back — it holds nicely without leaving hair crispy and it smells amazing. The hair spray has made a huge difference for us since she has such fine hair and always had fine strands of hair in her eyes. I usually alternate between two pigtails, a high ponytail, and a side parted half-up-half-down (the latter being my favorite to tie off with an enormous white bow, but sometimes it’s nice to really have her hair out of her face and off her shoulders — it’s quite long now!)
+What to do if you’re in a reading rut. (Check the comments.)
+Heather Taylor just launched a collaboration with West Elm full of great, classic-with-a-twist pieces, like these quilted and scalloped placemats, this gingham bath mat, these blue-and-white striped bath towels, and these throw pillows.
+Swooning over Reformation’s brand new footwear launch — trying to decide between the kitten heel mule and the flat slide in the Olympia pattern. I am leaning towards the mule because I have a lot of flat sandals and I imagining how those mules would transform any LWD.
+Avant-garde details but so fun! Would be great with a bump for a very interesting, fashion-forward piece that works while pregnant.
+Frilly Frog just marked a ton of current season pieces from some of my favorite childrenswear brands 25% off — just use code MAY25. I love these short pajamas sets from Lila + Hayes (silky-soft cotton), this strawberry bikini, and this gingham dress. I know a lot of you love these popover dresses from Bisby, too — 25% off!
+And how amazing is this fish-print swimsuit?!
+This cami dress looks so comfortable for post-shower lounging and scrolling.
+The brushed brass lanterns! Such great sizes!