Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun
by Jennifer Bryce
This book has been longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. The only other book of this highly-regarded author that I’ve read is Remains of the Day. I may be at a disadvantage having not read his other work that ventures into science fiction, particularly Never Let Me Go, indeed in his reivew in The Guardian, Alex Preston suggests that Never Let Me Go, The Buried Giant and Klara and the Sun should be read as a trilogy https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/01/klara-and-the-sun-by-kazuo-ishiguro-review-another-masterpiece.
Klara is an android. Specifically she is an AF: an Artificial Friend – in this society, which feels very much like America in, say, thirty years’ time, the well-to-do young people have AFs who are combination sibling, plaything, and nursemaid. The book is written from the viewpoint of Klara, an AF who starts off in a shop on display with other AFs, but is ultimately chosen by Josie, a fragile adolescent.
Klara is powered by the sun, which for her seems to take on a kind of religious significance. She is a mixture of intelligence (she can read, teach/ impart science) and what was for me unbelievable naivety, believing that the sun lives in a neighbour’s barn and that there is only one polluting machine in the world.
Josie and her mother (always referred to by Klara as ‘the mother’, Klara doesn’t seem to be able to use pronouns) take Klara home to what seems to be a well-to-do perhaps American household. The mother is a professional, who drives off to work each day, divorced from Josie’s father. There is a housekeeper, Melania Housekeeper (a coincidence that this is the name of the former US First Lady?). As I read, in my mind everything was a bit artificial. And why don’t they have a robot to do the housework? The house is in a rural setting – in my mind it was rather like a toy farmhouse and although the other characters were ‘real’ people, I pictured them as rather robotic.
Josie’s illness may have been caused by her being ‘lifted’ – something that seemed to happen to children of a certain class (maybe surgery – it’s unclear) that increases their intelligence. Josie’s friend Rick hasn’t been through this process – he seems quite bright without it (he designs drones), but the reason is most likely that his family is not well-to-do. We later learn that Josie’s sister died, possibly connected to the ‘lifting’ procedure. The main drama is that Josie might die like her sister.
Klara has learned to be devoted and believes that it is her duty to ‘save’ Josie. Klara learns that she is, in fact, being groomed by Josie’s parents (with the help of a scientist, Capaldi) to take on Josie’s characteristics to replace her in the event of her death. Perhaps fortunately, Josie does not die. Is she saved by Klara’s exhortations to the sun?
As Josie gets older, Klara is needed less and is consigned to a utility cupboard. When Josie goes off to college she glibly says, ‘You’ve been just great, Klara’. That’s it. And Klara ends her days in a rubbish dump, where she is visited by her original store manager and she is in the company of other abandoned AFs – that seems to be what happens. This is acclaimed as a book about love. For me it was more a pessimistic comment on present-day society.