In Ishiguro’s latest novel we meet Klara and Josie – and make no mistake, it is a masterpiece. Klara is a machine designed to be an Artificial Friend for teenagers. Josie is a very ill teenager. We first meet Klara in the shop where she is on display, just before Josie and her mother visit.

In this future world parents have to decide whether to take the chance of genetically enhancing or ‘lifting’ their children. The lifted become high status. The unlifted are left behind. But lifting comes with the risk of illness and death for some children and Josie is one of them. Liftes children are home schooled by virtual professors and only learn to interact with one another through carefully staged interaction events.

Interactions events are stressful for Josie. Teenagers are thoughtless and unkind to one another and AFs. Parent’s watch from the sidelines, not interfering so their children can learn how to socialise.

Josie’s only real friend is the gifted but unlifted Rick, who lives next door with his mother, the only other house for miles around.

Klara is Josie’s intelligent Artificial Friend. Protecting Josie from illness, loneliness and distress are central to her being. Klara is solar powered and the sun is a powerful force of energy and life for her – a constant source of faith and hope.

This is the story of Klara’s unconditional love and the relationships she forms with Josie, Rick and those around her as they all struggle with Josie’s illness.

Klara observes and narrates the story. As with his other books, Ishiguro uses the narrator’s naive, subtle perspective to make us think about what it means to be human.

Klara sees and thinks differently. The world of cubes and cones and intentions and emotions has to be learnt and negotiated. Klara presents us with decisions about lifting children, the loss of jobs to technology, our replacement by artificial intelligence and their consequences without direct interpretation. Readers are left to reflect on that for themselves.

The adults, Josie and Rick’s mothers, and Josie’s father struggle to make sense of their decisions and the purpose of their lives in this dystopian world. The teenagers, Josie and Rick press on with optimism against the odds.

The true genius of this book is that in the end you are invited to care more and more deeply for Klara as the story reaches its conclusion. It is Klara’s sacrifice, love and humanity that moves us in a world where the humans may have lost sight of what matters. A timely reminder in a COVID world that is still unfolding.