‘When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window.’
This is how we first meet Klara, an Artificial Friend, with outstanding powers of observation. Klara watches and waits, hoping that a customer will choose her. Klara is warned, by the Manager, not to put too much trust in the promises of humans.
In this novel, Mr Ishiguro has created a dystopian society which is simultaneously disorientating and familiar. Gradually we move further into this world, with Klara as our narrator. Because we have only Klara’s observations, our view of the world is restricted. Klara’s role as an Artificial Friend expands and because Klara accepts the humans around her as they are we cannot identify all the differences between their society and ours. But the increased use of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering are logical (if not always ethical) steps in a scientific continuum.
As the story progresses (and I will avoid spoilers) Klara becomes more aware of both her surroundings and the interactions between humans. Both surroundings and interactions lead Klara to some conclusions which (whether they are logical or not) blur the distinction between human interactions and the programming of artificial intelligence. Plasticity is not confined to biology.
I was unsettled by this novel but enjoyed the way in which Mr Ishiguro created this world and the view he gave us of it. I finished the story, wondering ‘what if?’.
A slow contemplative journey well worth taking.