Klara and the Sun is the eighth novel for the Nobel Prize-winning British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. It was published in March 2021 and is on this year’s Booker Prize long list, an award he won in 1989 for his novel, The Remains of the Day. Two of his novels have been developed into successful movies and he has been knighted for services to literature.
We meet Klara, and Artificial Friend, in a shop in the city where she waits with great anticipation to be chosen by a child and taken to a new home. Until that time, her world is defined by her relationship with the shop-keeper, her fellow AFs, and what she can see when she is given a turn by the window. Not only does the sun creeping into the store regenerate Klara and her friends, she watches as it performs a miracle on the city street outside. What she learns from this phenomenon propels her on a crusade to save Josie, the girl who finally takes her home.
Living in a remote area with only one other house nearby, teenagers Josie and her neighbour Rick develop the bubble gum game as a way to share, develop and explore their feelings and possible future together. Josie was ‘uplifted’ as an infant and Rick was not, the one benefitting from modified intelligence and the other relying on natural gifts. And so in an idealised future world, we meet the inevitable haves and have-nots. The reader may reflect on the comparative price for advantage in Ishiguro’s world and ours.
Klara and the Sun is a novel about what technology might influence in the future, but is relevant now in relation to the desperate actions triggered by loss and fear, ethical crossroads and the complexity of family relationships. Josie’s mother’s plan to solve a distressing problem is creative, sinister, selfish and desperate. Klara’s plan to save her friend is courageous, creative and completely misguided.
Klara’s voice has an aching purity borne of the nexus between her intellectual capacity and emotional naiveté. What does it say about us that the most endearing character in this book is not a person at all?