haven’t felt this much emotion for a robot since WALL-E 🙁
Kazuo Ishiguro’s ability to make difficult, dystopian concepts so entirely plausible is unmatched – it really is no wonder that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. In his new novel, Klara and the Sun, he delves into a world much like our own, but from the perspective of an ‘Artificial Friend’, Klara.
A far cry from just a big, humanoid Alexa, Ishiguro’s Klara is exceptionally perceptive, kind and intelligent. Of course, no amount of kindness can distract from the unavoidable awareness that we are edging ever closer towards the uncanny valley (defined as the revulsion we instinctively feel at objects that are eerily similar to human beings, but aren’t) through the Artificial Friend. There’s also something about the fact that these robots are marketed towards lonely children that makes me feel a little bit sick.
“Sometimes,’ she said, ‘at special moments like that, people feel a pain alongside their happiness. I’m glad you watch everything so carefully, Klara.”
Through Klara, however, that unease is put to rest – initially, at least. Continually observing her environment as she moves from the store where she is on display to the home of Josie, the child that she is an Artificial Friend to, Klara’s eagerness to learn and her ‘sincere’ excitement at being Josie’s companion is incredibly endearing. There’s that inimitable ‘Ishiguro-ness’ in getting us to truly believe in characters that seem so far removed from reality.
“Until recently, I didn’t think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful than the wish to avoid loneliness.”
Klara, bizarrely, is the most likeable and most ‘human’ character in the novel. From the moment we set foot in Josie’s home and meet her mother, something is certainly off. Ishiguro pushes the ethical boundaries of AI (as if they weren’t being pushed already), blurring the lines between life and death, reality and unreality, as Klara’s human capabilities are put to the test. However creepy the subject might be, the novel is still filled with light and beautiful imagery, particularly in relation to Klara’s assumption that the sun has the power to heal and regenerate people.
I really, really enjoyed reading this. However, I did get little a sense of deja vu, like I’ve read this all before?
Ishiguro creates his own niche in dystopian sci-fi through worlds that are eerily like our own, and it is this simplicity that makes reading his work so enjoyable. But if anyone else has read his 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, you’re sure to spot some similarities that could be seen as a bit lazy.
The most striking feature of Klara and the Sun is that we are viewing the world through the eyes of a robot who is constantly learning and growing from their experiences while they are unaware of the ethical and philosophical questions raised by their very existence…which is exactly how the narrative of Never Let Me Go is constructed, except the spooky science craze in the noughties was cloning.
I’ll be honest, though, if Ishiguro decided to only write the same books in this very specific genre with the same kinds of characters, I would continue to buy each and every one.
Ishiguro get’s 4.5 stars from me. You’re welcome, you best-selling, Nobel Peace Prize-winning author.
p.s. I have been inactive on my blog for nearly 6 months as my MA has been slowly draining all of my life sources. My big essays are all in (except my diss but that’s a problem for future me), and now I’ve got a real-life job in publishing, I’m finally feeling inspired to read. Thank god.