Klara and the Sun has been among the most anticipated releases of this year. For those of you who know the novel’s author, this hardly comes as a surprise. Winner of the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro is among the most gifted authors of this century.
Set in the near-distant future, Klara and the Sun follows the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend. AFs are humanoid machines that are designed to act as companions for children, who don’t socialise anymore because they are homeschooled by “screen professors.” Klara is soon chosen by 14-year-old Josie. As the story unfolds, we learn that Josie suffers from a mysterious illness that may or may not kill her. The question that looms over the novel is: will Josie, with Klara’s help, recover from her illness? And if she doesn’t, what will her mother do to survive the loss?
This is the first novel by Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and his artistic talent shines through in this work once again. As Never Let Me Go, Klara and the Sun explores themes of loneliness, grief and love. By letting us see the world through the eyes of Klara, Ishiguro challenges our perceptions and urges us to confront a fundamental question: what does it really mean to be human?
“Our generation still carry the old feelings. A part of us refuses to let go. The part that wants to keep believing there’s something unreachable inside each of us. Something that’s unique and won’t transfer. But there’s nothing like that, we know that now.”
I thought it fascinating to look at ourselves through the eyes of a not-quite-human character. Klara has extraordinary observational skills, but she struggles to make sense of human feelings and behaviour. Things we take for granted are strange or incomprehensible for her. For example, from her position in the shop, Klara observes how a beggar and his dog are lying unmoving on the ground for hours. For Klara, it’s obvious that the two have died. But the next day, when the sun rises, the two are moving again. For any rational being, it’s clear that the two have merely slept. For Klara, the two were dead and have been resurrected by the sun’s “special nourishment” (it should probably be mentioned that AFs run on solar power, which is why the sun plays an important role for Klara).
Klara is a likeable character but, unsurprisingly perhaps, not a relatable one. But this is probably the point. A central conflict in the novel revolves around the question of whether a machine can authentically copy a human. Luckily, the novel seems to suggest, we’ve not reached the point yet. But do we really want to reach that point? The story is probably as much a warning as it is an observation.
“There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her.”
I’m also a fan of Ishiguro’s writing style. If you’re familiar with some of his other works, you probably know that Ishiguro is a master at telling-not-telling. He’s dropping little cues and hints throughout his stories, but he’s never quite spelling them out so in the end we’re left to do much of the imagining ourselves. It’s like he’s giving us little puzzle pieces that we’ve to connect to get the full picture. In the end, we roughly know what pieces go together, but there are still a lot of gaps that we have to fill in ourselves.
Nevertheless, there are some parts in the novel that I felt were a bit too slow-moving. Especially the scenes where Klara “talks” to the Sun (which she personifies) were a bit too cliched and protracted. Admittedly, I was eager to find out what will happen next, so the scenes in which Ishiguro slows down the narrative and makes us wait (there are quite a few) felt really unnerving.
Overall, Klara and the Sun is a gripping story that will probably resonate with readers who loved his previous works. Personally, I didn’t find it as convincing as Never Let Me Go, but still a story worth reading.
Have you read Klara and the Sun? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section below!