Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel takes us to a world of the not-so-distant future, where AI and humans live side-by-side…literally. Klara, an artificial friend (“AF”), relates to us her journey of leaving a shop window for a home with Josie, her teenage adoptive human. Josie suffers from a mysterious illness, which frustrates her mother and leaves her with few close human friends, apart from her boyfriend Rick. As Klara acclimates to life with her new family, she peels back their history and secrets to discover the real reason for her presence in their lives.
I am currently 60% through Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun. In recent years, the British writer has pivoted away from psychological family dramas towards science fiction and fantasy. Klara and the Sun, in fact, is narrated by an artificial friend (or “AF”) called Klara, who relates her experiences starting as a robot in a store window and subsequent adoption by Josie, a lonely teenage girl.
I don’t know where this book is going, but I can say already I’m quite attached to Klara, even though I know she is only a highly advanced computer with a human-like body. This is not the first time a fictional computer has won my heart.
There’s a reason Data is one of fans’ favorite Star Trek characters. It’s the same reason Ishiguro was able to write a novel from an android’s perspective.
We all would love to have a friend who accepts and supports us unconditionally. Somebody who is always dependable and has few other motives in life than to be there for us. Someone who doesn’t criticize us, tease us, use us, or abandon us. Total commitment, in our noncommittal world, but not in a clingy way—we want to be able to walk away, too.
So… I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this review. I’ve been procrastinating in part because I found a reviewer on Amazon who already summed up my feelings in a beautifully short paragraph. They write (and I anonymize it to respect their editing rights):
This was a book that made me physically ill. While that is enough to give an opinion, I feel it’s still necessary to break down a critique of the book, to show that I read it and why I feel it is weak literature (among other things).
Pandemic and Pandemonium
A man in traffic is struck by a sudden blindness, a milky white blindness that comes out of nowhere. He is assisted home by some good Samaritans—or not-so-good-Samaritans, as it turns out that his car gets stolen by the man who takes him home. From here, things escalate when it’s discovered the blindness is contagious, rendering victims helpless within minutes or hours of exposure. Soon those who have been affected are rounded up by the government and sent to an old mental asylum to be quarantined. Here, left to their own devices and desires, the group of blind people must fend for themselves, at the mercy of the military and their own cruelty and desperation.
I felt this pandemic novel started very strongly, and I was immediately drawn to Saramago’s “collapsed text” style. Just how collapsed are we talking? For example:
Confidential matters are not dealt with over the telephone, you’d better come here in person. I cannot leave the house, Do you mean you’re ill, Yes, I’m ill, the blind man said after a pause. In that case you ought to call a doctor, a real doctor, quipped the functionary, and, delighted with his own wit, he rang off.
I was reminded of Kafka, so this was right up my alley. I felt it added greatly to the sense of chaos and unease in the story. However, if you dislike this style, you’ll find the entire book very frustrating to read.
I enjoyed the near-cinematic composition of scenes, starting with the one driver and gradually building up a cast of characters from different walks of life. For the first third or so of the novel, it seemed to me every scene had a purpose and was pretty well crafted.
Once at the mental asylum, things fell apart fast, like Lord of the Flies on steroids. I could not help but compare the two books, even though their premises are so different. Both propose a kind of blackpilled vision of what society looks like without order and civilization. A proper comparison between the two would take a whole ‘nother post (which I may do in the future). Overall, I found Lord of the Flies to be a better reading experience, which I’ll explain later in this review.
Reading Blindness, I kept thinking, This is like a slice of hell. Except I think that Hell—the actual biblical Hell, that is, not Dante’s fiction—is less perverse. As the Amazon reviewer observed, Saramago seems to think his readers have very little imagination.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – Including discussion of violence against women.
I don’t have a fully fleshed-out post today, just a question for you all…
How much do you consider an author’s life while evaluating their fiction?
I have seen this go both ways.
For example, some will say it is fine to appreciate H. P. Lovecraft for his science fiction, while acknowledging his racist undercurrents. In a more recent instance, I was told by some readers to consider José Saramago’s life and background, while I was expressing criticism of his novel Blindness.
My gut instinct is that there is no wrong answer here and that the appropriate response runs on a subjective spectrum. It’s subjective because we each have our own personal boundaries of what we believe is acceptable or how far we’re willing to explore potentially offensive material (let alone to justify time spent on that exploration). It’s a spectrum because the reading and reviewing of a book is as nuanced as its writing, and I don’t think we should discredit our own personal reading experience for the sake of a merely “checklist” style of review.
Mostly, I’m interested in how other people make this judgment call, as I’m preparing to review Blindness. I don’t think it will change my review (haha), but I’ve been puzzling over this question since it came up at the book club, and I especially welcome the wisdom of my blog readers.
Warning: This review is honest and critical. You may wish to skip it if you are a die-hard fan!
Today I finished watching Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is currently free to watch on YouTube. Previously I saw the 25th Anniversary musical production, and (in what feels like another lifetime) I once read Gaston Leroux’s novel.
For the uninitiated—The Phantom of the Opera takes place in 19th-century Paris. A young chorus singer, Christine, begins hearing a voice, which she thinks is an angel sent by her deceased father to look after her. The voice actually belongs to Erik, a musical mastermind who lives under the opera house and subjects everyone to his will. He gives Christine singing lessons and begins inserting her as the lead in the opera productions. When he finds out she has a boyfriend (Raoul), Erik asserts himself as her “protector” and determines to get rid of the boyfriend and anyone else who stands in his way.
I must be getting old and jaded because this movie did not strike a chord with me (pardon the pun).