It is surprising that Klara and the Sun is only the second of Kazuo Ishiguro I have ever read. It is surprising because the other novel, Never Let Me Go, had such a profound effect on me when I first read it in my early twenties. There are some novels that never fade from your memory, you can recall the emotions and impact they had on you immediately. The unsettling nature of Never Let Me Go is a feeling that has never dissipated despite my reading of it several times since; it is vividly bought to mind every time I recall it.
On its surface, Klara and the Sun is a book about an artificial friend or AF called Klara. We open on her days in the store, in which she is a product waiting to be bought, where she inquisitively snatches glances of the outside world. She is eventually purchased by a mother and daughter after an anxious and is given the task of quelling the loneliness of the latter.
As with Never Let Me Go, you realise quite early on that there is a lot more going on in the world that we, as readers, are not privy to as we are restricted by her narrow point of view. Her perspective is innocent, childlike herself and her naivety forces us as readers to fill in the gaps and try to work out the motivation of the characters around Klara. To question what is being left unsaid? Klara’s willingness to learn and see the good in people has to be layered with our own realism and perhaps cynicism at the motivations of humankind. Perhaps it was my own cynicism as a reader that I felt the adults all had ulterior motives that made the book feel unsettling.
The changes in attachment between characters felt a particularly poignant aspect of the novel. How individuals can be self-serving and disregarding once one’s own needs are met, felt symbolic of humankind’s position on Earth, an apt illustration of how we treat others or indeed the planet itself. Ishiguro has stated that he wanted to ask the question about the individuality of the human soul and whether or not this was a ‘hangover’ from a time past which was more reliant on religion or mysticism. There are characters in the book that believe an individual can be replicated in their entirety, that there is no special secret essence that makes us an individual. This disturbing/ depressing thought is an interesting one to experience play out in the novel as characters with differing perspectives clash.
Is it a hopeful novel? The ending itself feels rather upsetting. Perhaps it could be interpreted that as a society we are evolving rapidly, and scientific advancements break new boundaries and raise new questions daily. How we respond as individuals and as a collective will be imperative.