Klara and the Sun is one of my new highlights. I didn’t know much about this story before picking it up, so I didn’t have any expectations for it. In my opinion, it is an easier read than The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go, making it more accessible, and a good starting point for readers new to Ishiguro.
The story follows Klara, an artificial friend (AF), who learns about the world around her by observing it. She mainly communicates with Josie, a young girl who is ill and has bought Klara for company. So, the communication style between them is quite simple which makes for a comfortable read. The Ishiguro novels I have read so far always feature a rather slow story progression while showing how different everyday life can be under different circumstances. Klara and the Sun is no exception to this, but there is a certain naivete that comes with Klara’s character.
Klara, as a character, represents the central question the novel poses: Is there something that makes us unique and cannot be reproduced via scientific developments? It is made clear from the beginning that the AFs are like an information storage unit. They come with specific sets of knowledge; for example, different physical skills, emotional and empathy skills, or topical knowledge like chemistry, maths, or languages. AFs are supposed to support a child or teenager until adulthood in whichever way is necessary. But then why is Klara so naive? Klara shows the confines of her own code and her learning experience going forwards. However, her learning experience changes her and allows for her to develop a little bit of a personality. On a side note, it’s a nice change, that Klara does not have access to indefinite knowledge, but has a set range according to her purpose. It is her naivete that eventually allows her to consider an option to heal Josie that no one else considered before, falling back onto natural aspects instead of the ever-developing scientific options. This is not to say that we should not trust science or medicine, in contrast, it is knowing that rest or warmth, for example, will assist the healing process.
Now we come into the spoiler zone.
Most Ishiguro novels ask different ethical questions. Never Let Me Go, for example, questions if it is ethical to raise clones as spare parts for humans. In Klara and the Sun there are also different questions being asked. I’ll focus on two different ones that are central to the story.
The first question being raised is, whether or not it is ethical to create artificial friends to become another person. In the novel, there is a large possibility that Josie would not survive her being sick. It is revealed at a later stage, that Josie being “elevated” means that she was genetically enhanced. Her being sick is a reaction to this procedure. As a sort of fail-safe, Josie’s mother agrees to buy Klara for her observational skills and at the peak of the narrative, it is revealed that they are building an AF to look like Josie in case she passes. In this case, Klara would be asked to become Josie as she has observed her character. Is it ethical to create an artificial version of a person that has passed? This question then edges onto other questions that might be raised. For example: Is it ethical to “raise” an AF alongside a person? To let them potentially develop their own personality? Is it ethical to then ask to erase this personality for our comfort of them becoming someone else? Is this a way to deal with grief? Do we not erase what is special about a person, if we can simply reproduce it? Obviously, I do not have the answers to these questions, but the novel does make an effort to show different perspectives. The mother speaks from her position of the impending grief of losing a child. The father shares his concerns about whether there is anything left in humanity that cannot be reproduced, whereas Mr Capaldi, the artist, shares his views on the endless possibilities of science and development with AFs.
The second question being raised, is how we continue with Artificial Friends? If they develop a personality, is it right for them to be thrown away like a toy that is not needed anymore? Where do we draw a line between the artificial person and the human person, and is there a line to be drawn at all? At the end of the novel, Klara is not able to move anymore and is brought to a scrap yard. This AF was supposed to become a replacement for Josie, and while she stayed at the house for a long time, she still ends up as sentient “garbage”. What do we do with an AF that has served its purpose? Is Klara an object to be discarded or is she a sentient being?
All in all, I really enjoyed Klara and the Sun. It has a more optimistic approach to these very difficult questions and I find that quite refreshing. I also believe that this novel could interest new readers in Ishiguro’s style. Klara’s charm and naivete balance the sadder aspects of Josie being ill and the potential of her passing away. Furthermore. the novel raises interesting questions, and also gives different perspectives on some possible answers. Definitely a recommended read!