Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (2021)
- Interesting concept and wonderful narrator / character
- Simply but beautifully written
- Gentle but poignant plot
Klara and the Sun is a beautifully written and gentle story following Klara, an Artificial Friend, who’s life starts in a small shop with other AFs, waiting to be chosen by a child. Klara is immediately seen as different from the other AFs by the Manager, who calls her observant and with a unique take on the world. When it’s Klara and her friend Rosa’s turn in the window, Klara sees the outer world, along with all its wonders, as well as meeting Josie for the first time.
With a slow plot, and clean and precise prose for Klara’s keen observance narration, Ishiguro uses themes of love and loyalty to create intense connections with the reader to both Klara and Josie. Ishiguro described his ‘dirty secret’ as “I tend to write the same book over and over”, and while each of his novels are unique, similar characters such as the ‘not-quite-human’ and uncanny valley aspect seem to be correct. Even if this is so, the novel is still very relevant, beautiful and definitely worth a read in itself.
Analysis: (Spoilers Ahead)
The blurb of the novel is very vague, leaving much to the imagination as to the plot of the novel. While slow, Josie is the main instigator of the plot, choosing Klara though she can’t take her home immediately, along with the description of Josie being ‘thin and pale’ and ‘her walk wasn’t like that of other passers-by’, so the reader realises she is ill. Josie’s illness plotline is the main thread of the novel, as to Klara, Josie is the most important person in the world.
Klara’s fascination with the Sun begins on the first page and proves to be a strong thread throughout the novel. Always written capitalised, and personified as a ‘he’, the Sun’s ‘nourishment’ is key to the AFs, who are solar powered. Part of the reasoning behind Klara’s happiness at Josie’s house is that she can see where the Sun ‘sleeps’, where he sinks into a barn on the horizon as his resting place. So, when Josie’s illness worsens, Klara enlists the help of Rick to visit the Sun in his resting place and bargain for the Sun to send his ‘a special kind of nourishment’ to heal her – as he did once for the Beggar Man and his Dog in the city, which she saw from her shop window, who was supposedly lying dead in a doorway until the Sun shone on him again. In return for her bargain, Klara vows to end Pollution, which she associates with the Cootings Machine, which used to spew smoke and obscure the Sun back in the city. While the plotline is intriguing, there is very little action in the plot, reflecting how passive Klara is as a person. She only fulfils her bargain with the Sun due to circumstance and the help from the Father – who, a little coincidentally, knew of a way to destroy the machine, and Klara happened to house said chemical within her body.
A large part of Ishiguro’s writing style seems to be leaving much of the world underdeveloped. When Klara realises that the Mother is building an AF replica of Josie, which Klara would inhabit and pretend to be Josie if Josie died, Klara accepts this development as calmly and passively as she does everything else. The idea of the AF Josie is a hugely important and poignant theme, especially with the Mother purposefully choosing Klara, testing her and becoming attached to her specifically for this purpose. However, this lack of weight on this moment leaves the reader a little underwhelmed as reading it in such a way makes it feel ordinary and not as dramatic as the reveal could have been. This is clearly intended by Ishiguro, and is demonstrated in other areas with his minimal writing style, such as the development of the physical world:
The shop sells AFs but then disappears with no explanation. The Cootings Machine – which is never actually described enough to understand what it is – is spewing smoke and Pollution, but we assume the novel is set in the future with the development of AFs, so why is there still such pollution? There is mention of the Father having ‘substitutions’ in his work and ‘post-employed’, and lives in a community which is seen as violent and territorial, ‘community barricading itself with weapons’. There is some ambiguity over feelings for AFs, for example ‘If you take this machine into the theater, we’ll have to raise an objection.’– and supposedly some hatred towards AFs as the possible cause of the unemployment.
But the most interesting world concept is the idea of ‘lifted’ and ‘unlifted’ children. Josie, being lifted, attends lessons through an ‘oblong’ (assumed phone or tablet) but has arranged social times with other lifted children, who do seem of a certain class. Josie can attend college while Rick, being unlifted, cannot attend even though he is naturally very smart, ‘Rick wasn’t lifted, but he can still go far, do very well’. They’re trying to get him into a college scholarship which allows unlifted, though its competitive. Only towards the end is a different phrase used, ‘genetic editing’(pg274), which alone shines more of a light on the subject. But Ishiguro says nothing else on the matter. The reader has to assume to meaning of this, the implications of AFs stealing jobs and the idea that humans need to be genetically enhanced to be smarter to fight for said jobs, but it is only available for the rich – is a common trope within SF, so it is understandable that Ishiguro might not need to explain if he is using cliché to his advantage.
Being lifted is the reason Josie is ill, and the reason her elder sister died. The Mother asks Rick ‘if you feel like you’ve come out the winner’ by ‘play[ing] it safe’, while Josie (or more accurately, the Mother) ‘took the gamble’ ‘bet high and […] she might soon be about to lose’. However, Rick says that Josie insisted ‘she wouldn’t have wished it any other way’.This feels poignantly close to the vaccination debate, whether enhancing life is worth a small risk to health, which seems likely due to the novel’s 2021 publishing date – and is often associated with genetical engineering tropes within SF also. But the slow reveal of this aspect plays wonderfully into the sparsely written world – when the reader pieces everything together, it feels extremely rewarding.
With a wonderfully observant, passive and gentle narrator, important themes of life and love, crafted carefully and purposefully, Klara and the Sun is an incredible read that proves that Ishiguro is well deserving of his Nobel Prize.
 Alex Preston, ‘Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro review – another masterpiece’, The Guardian (2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/01/klara-and-the-sun-by-kazuo-ishiguro-review-another-masterpiece> [accessed 02/07/23]  Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (London: Faber & Faber Ltd, 2021), pg12.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg3.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg44.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg33,  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg231.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg266.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg262.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg268.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg262.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg310.  Kazuo Ishiguro, pg311.