Klara and the Sun originally started as a children’s story, but upon presenting the idea to his daughter Naomi, she suggested he stay well away from the genre – mostly because the premise was too depressing for youngsters.
Ishiguro then substituted his original protagonist, a teddy bear, with Klara, the Artificial Intelligence Friend.
The novel focuses on Klara, whose purpose is to solely look after and keep company with the child she’s assigned (upon purchase). As some of the children are genetically lifted, as is the case with Josie, she at times becomes sick, needing additional support.
Add to that the fact that all schooling is done from home (sound familiar?), there is little chance for social interaction, making an artificial intelligence an ideal addition to the family.
Narrated from the perspective of Klara, as she begins to study and understand the world, she becomes more emotionally responsive to Josie’s needs, building a solid connection to her own source of energy along the way – the sun.
The Sun Always Shines
Despite Klara being of Artificial Intelligence, she holds a simplistic child-like view of the world.
Equally, she holds a quiet optimism that the world is an excellent place to be and that people only want the best for each other.
This goes back to young children being oblivious to the many dangers around them, simply because they’re yet to experience them. It’s not until you bump your head on the corner of a table that you begin to learn the dangers of sharp objects.
The same can be said for Klara’s first run-in with ‘the pollution machine‘.
As she’s designed to run on solar energy, the sun is her biggest asset. It provides her with the ability to walk and talk. She also believes it has special healing powers to humans too. But when this is put in jeopardy by these machines creating high pollution rates, she feels she must do something to protect the planet.
It’s easy to see this as a direct allegory for climate change and the immediate impact it has on our everyday lives.
Although we don’t attribute the sun to having special powers, think about how much you miss it during the winter. When those first signs of spring roll around and the sun’s rays shine down, we’re given an extra boost of energy, knowing that life’s much easier when it’s warmer.
Rapid development in technology leaves the world at an impasse. However, Ishiguro takes these feelings a step further and pushes them forward into a slightly more dystopian future.
While the world seems relatively normal, it’s hinted that other forces are at play within this world and not just robots.
A Cold Front
Despite my praises for this book, I didn’t feel it was written by a Nobel Prize-winning author. That may sound a little harsh, but I think it has to do with Ishiguro constantly re-treading similar grounds.
A dystopian, almost science-fiction world in which we’re exposed to reality’s true emotional natures describes over half of his back-catalogue.
And for this reason, while there are engaging elements to the story, nothing seems wholly new.
A plot that draws on your own emotional understandings of death, along with what it means to love along the way, is a theme also found in Never Let Me Go – which is a much more rounded story with a much more decisive conclusion.
The interactions between Josie, Rick and Klara all appear pure, primarily due to Klara’s simplistic life approach.
She is always inquisitive and wants to understand points further. She wants only the best for sick Josie as her purpose in life is simply to serve. This is where Ishiguro is the master at edging in subtle remarks or wielding low-key action to tighten these bonds.
The same goes for Klara’s own bond with the sun – her energy source given her solar-powered battery pack.
Intent on pleasing the sun for its blessings upon the people, she embarks on her own adventures to help it thrive and eradicate any harmful pollution that may get in its way.
It’s easy to read these moments as an allegory of climate change, the power the sun holds, and the need for change now.
Klara and the Sun almost works as a loose trilogy comprising also of The Buried Giant and Never Let Me Go. It rewrites Ishiguro’s work’s previous nuances, making each statement much more pronounced; what does it mean to truly love? Where do we go when it’s all over?
Whilst not a masterpiece as some outlets will have you believe, this is a delightful novel that will have you think much more about the roles of technology within society and how much we’ve already become too reliant on it in the modern era.
If you haven’t read Never Let Me Go, start there, then move on to this to get a true sense of Ishiguro’s developed understanding of virtue and formality within society.