Klara and The Sun is about the interactions between artificial intelligence and human beings and the impact of those interactions on human relationships.
Klara is a high functioning AF (Artificial Friend) created to befriend a child who selects her. The novel starts with Klara living in a store with other AFs, waiting to be selected. Klara and Rosa are close AF friends, although they are very different. Klara is very observational, taking note of and considering everything she sees. She has a special relationship with the store manager, who tells Klara, “you are quite remarkable…You notice and absorb so much.”
One day, a young girl speaks to her through the store window, where Klara and Rosa have been strategically placed and where they can easily absorb the sun (their nourishment). The girl, Josie, is pale and thin and has difficulty walking. Josie talks to Klara for a while through the window but has to leave. She promises to return. Josie does not return again for 3 and a half days, but still she leaves without taking Klara with her. A bit later, another young girl comes in and wants Klara. Klara, who is waiting for Josie to come back, dissuades her. The manager is not pleased, noting that “It’s for the customer to choose the AF, never the other way round.” Finally Josie and her mother return and Klara goes home with them.
Klara learns the household routine quickly and is accepted by Josie’s mother, Chrissie, although the housekeeper is not too pleased about Klara’s arrival. Josie and Klara are close and Josie tells Klara about her boyfriend Rick. Rick is a neighbor and Josie and Rick have grown up together. They care deeply about each other but Rick has not been “lifted” and his future is bleak as a result. Rick’s mother, Alice, is also a force to be dealt with throughout the novel. Klara learns that Josie had a sister who had died, which haunts Chrissie.
Josie is in poor health and Chrissie is having a difficult time dealing with the illness. She treats Klara peculiarly at times, which we learn is connected to Josie’s health issues. As Klara ponders Chrissie’s peculiar behavior, she observes “what was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made maneuvers that were very complex and hard to fathom.” As Josie’s health deteriorates, the story becomes more peculiar. Chrissie arranges for Josie to have her portrait drawn and Josie’s father, Paul, enters the picture. He and Chrissie argue vehemently over the portrait and Paul does not like or trust the artist.
When it appears that Josie will die, Klara is convinced that the sun can cure her. She brings Rick and Paul into the project to cure Josie, although neither of them understand what Klara intends to do.
Much of the story is about the differences between humans and science and whether there is something in humans that distinguishes them from machines, that is unreachable, unique and nontransferable. Or alternatively, whether everything about us can simply be artificially recreated. You will need to read the book to understand the conclusion.
The novel is enjoyable but not the best novel I have read that addresses this particular issue (Try “Machines Like Me”–Ian McEwan). You can reserve Klara and The Sun at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.