Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published by Knopf
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
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In an unspecified place, sometime in the future, Klara waits inside a store for her new best friend. Days pass and she moves from section to section, often gazing out the main window onto the street, observing and absorbing what’s happening in the world outside. She has a strong sense of who her new friend will be, a girl that only she can help, so when Josie arrives, she knows she’s the one. Josie chooses her, launching the story that is Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Klara and the Sun.
Klara is an Artificial Friend, a human-like robot purchased as companions for wealthy teenagers. In the case of Josie, Klara is chosen specifically for her unusual ability to intuit emotion and context beyond her processing powers, because Josie gets sick. Her illness is not explained, but there are days and even weeks when she doesn’t leave her bed. When Josie is healthy, Klara and the Sun moves through a world where Ishiguro uses words like “lifted” and “substituted” to describe people’s lives in this society. Some children are “lifted” and attend special schools.
Klara and the Sun is science-fiction, but unlike Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, there isn’t the buildup and reveal of a chilling future for mankind. With Klara as narrator, events develop with a more measured feel, with Ishiguru perfectly emulating the way a computer would process the world around them. As she learns Klara becomes certain she knows how to heal Josie, but her certainty is limited to her experience, which makes it a childlike belief—not something expected from a computer. This combination results in an earnest tenderness on Klara’s part. Josie is her person, but Klara recognizes what the adults around Josie want but are not saying. She has to process conflicting data.
Conflicted is also how I ended up feeling about the novel. I wanted to love it, but it veered between too much information, with a clunky detour into a side character’s life and too little—what is this society? How deep is the impact of its disparities? Both caused me to pull away from the novel at certain points.
What never faltered is my admiration for Ishiguro’s elegant prose. He renders Klara with a fragility and calm acceptance that becomes increasingly poignant as Klara and the Sun progresses. He sketches so lightly on the page, never forcing recognition or emotion, and in doing so, opens the heart and the mind in unexpected ways.
If you’re interested in other novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, one of my favorites is The Buried Giant.
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Chrissie Whitley says
Love your review, Catherine. What I have loved about Ishiguro (from the novels of his I have read thus far), is his exploration of class, society, worth, and what it means to be a human/person. I thought what he did with Klara and the Sun was incredible — and just as deceptively subtle as his other works. Everything he writes is truly complex, even (and maybe most especially) when it does not appear to be. This is the kind of book that makes me want to spoil it (which my husband happily tolerates) just so I can continue to dissect it and compare it with the mirrored themes he explores in The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and The Buried Giant.
You put this so beautifully. I think part of his gift is how in each of his books he reaches the reader in a different way. I guess I attributed more intelligence to Klara because she was artificial, but her obsession with how to heal Josie was so unscientific- if that makes sense. But I agree, he writes beautifully about the construct of humanity.
Thanks, Catherine! I always find your reviews so thoughtful. (And I love your contributions to the podcast with Sarah.) It’s so interesting how deep you can go with his novels. For instance just above where you said, “I guess I attributed more intelligence to Klara because she was artificial…” — that’s exactly why the humans around her, namely Josie’s dad and her BF neighbor, were willing to blindly believe any possibility of hope Klara might offer, even what does turn out to be a childlike understanding of the sun.
I saw so much correlation between Klara and Stevens (from The Remains of the Day) — especially with how Klara could stand around and overhear all these conversations because her presence was so easily dismissed or ignored altogether — like that of a “good” butler. And her entire existence is only confined to the teenage years of her companion (I won’t say more for spoilers — but that is evident when she is speaking with Manager later in the book), so her whole being is tied up in a simple form of servitude disguised as friendship.
Thank you! You’re exactly right about Ishiguro. I read Remains so long ago that I’ve forgotten most of it, but I definitely felt sadness for Klara. The novel’s ending made my heart hurt- which I think is the issue that concerns Ishiguro. What ethical and moral obligation do we have to ‘artificial’ beings?
I remember that restraint from the only Ishiguro I have read, The Remains of the Day. I loved that novel.
Yes! It’s a very old-fashioned, elegant attitude of less-is-more, which is so not contemporary! But his subjects are. A wonderful conundrum.
I look forward to Klara! So does this mean you didn’t like it as much as Never Let Me Go? Ishiguro is a master. We will see ….
I read Never so long ago it’s hard to say. I only know Buried Giant is my favorite.