- 15 Jun 21
Klara And The Sun is Ishiguro’s first novel since winning the big prize in 2017, awarded to him because, according to the good people at Nobel who decide on these things, “in novels of great emotional force, [he] has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world” This citation could be talking about 1989’s The Remains Of The Day - an absolute masterpiece - on its own
The perfectly drawn character of Stevens, his devotion to Lord Darlington despite his highly questionable politics, and the sheer broken heartedness of the whole affair, or non-affair, with so much being tragically left unsaid would leave anyone a crumpled mess. This novel is more akin to another of his great works, 2005’s Never Let Me Go, a tale involving human clones, bred for organ donation, in an alternate 1990s, although there’s a lot left unsaid here too.
This time around we’re in an imagined America where Ishiguro examines what it is to be human through the eyes of Klara, an android or “artificial friend”, who is purchased as a companion for Josie, a young girl who’s unwell, suffering under the same aliment that already claimed her sister. While Klara is perceptive and sensitive to people’s feelings, her intelligence is limited – she gives the sun a bit too much credit for a start, although this is perhaps understandable as she’s solar powered - and so is not, perhaps, the most reliable narrator. She literally sees the world differently, as a series of squares that her technology allows, and the technology occasionally goes askew, and even negotiating a walk across gravel can be tricky.
Ishiguro uses this as a way to slowly reveal details of life in this slightly different world of the near future. Piece by piece, we are let in on the relationship between Josie’s parents, the nature of her illness and the ways in which some children are “lifted” – genetically meddled with - and some, like their neighbour Rick, are not. We also see glimpses of the effect that the introduction of artificial life has had on this world. Josie’s father talks of “substitutions” and women complain, like luddites swinging hammers at the stocking frames brought in to replace them, when Klara attends the theatre. The obvious irony is that this obsolescence/replacement has already happened to Klara early in the book, having been moved to the back of the store to give way to a new model, only to be rescued by Josie, and there’ll be more of that before the story is finished.
Like those previous masterpieces mentioned, Ishiguro’s story telling creeps up on you, and you’re over-powered before you even notice. The reader will also recognise plenty of common ground with the world we’ve been living in for the last year and a half, despite claims that the novel was near completion before everything fell over. Deliberate or not, recent events and their reflection in this narrative surely illustrate “our illusory sense of connection with the world.” The Swedish Academy were right on the money.