Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

You would expect a book of import from a Nobel Prize winner for Literature and that is what you get in Klara and the Sun.

This is the story of a young girl, Josie, who chooses an Artificial Friend (AF) to keep her company and to look after her because she is not well. The AF is named Klara and is deemed by herself and the shop Manager to be especially good at noticing things. This becomes important when the mother of the girl asks Klara to walk like her daughter and Klara can do this.

Josie’s mother had decided to have Josie ‘uplifted’ when she was little, another way of saying genetically mofified to be more intelligent but it is at some risk to Josie: becoming ill and dying. Josie does become very ill but in the end does not die and this leads to a change in her need for an AF. Their neighbours, Chrissie and her son Rick, are good friends and Rick and Josie spend a lot of time together but Rick’s mother decided not to have him ‘uplifted’. This means that it is nearly impossible to get into the top Universities and in particular the one where Josie wants to go and this has always been their plan.

There are so many important themes and ideas in this book. The first is that the narrator is Klara the AF and that makes for a naive storyteller who constantly catgorises and rationalises what she ‘sees’. It is through her observations that we also try to make sense of the story and there is something playful about asking us what it means to be human through the eyes of something that is not.

When the Mother next spoke, it was more obvious she was speaking to me.

‘It must be nice sometimes to have no feelings. I envy you.’ I considered this, then said: ‘I believe I have many feelings. The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.’


So here we have the human wishing they didn’t have so many feelings and the AF saying that they do have feelings. Klara was sad because Josie couldn’t come with them to her favourite place, Morgan Falls. It is, however, quite a simplistic response and we never really get more complex emotions named such as guilt, envy, pride or remorse. It lacks nuance and that is one of the clues in the book that emotions are more complex, are often mixed up with other emotions and are very context driven.

The relationship between Klara and the sun is an interesting one. A machine relies upon nature to keep them working and so Kara always seeks out the sun, observing it at different points in the day and on different objects. As we move through the story, the sun takes on an even greater importance with Klara finding meaning in it and then it becoming god-like to her. Towards the end as Josie is very ill, Klara makes a difficult journey to a building a few fields away on the back of Rick because it is too difficult for her to navigate uneven ground, to watch the sun go down in its final place – this feels like a pilgramage – and here she speaks to it asking for it to help Josie: she is praying to it. And what do you know? As the sun shines strongly into Josie’s room she recovers and is able to sit up and get better. It seems as if we are watching how people revered the sun way back in time, knowing it to be a source of life but sometimes fickle and needs pleading with and offerings and promises of certain behaviours in order to bestow its qualities on us. But it did allow the AF to show faith and offered hope and surely that is essential to human life.

One of the themes that runs through the book is obsolescence – of the AFs and of people. In fact, it is probably the biggest fear of the AFs that they will become obsolete before they are chosen and once they are at home with their children. In the shop the newer models B3s are put out at the front and Klara and those like her – B2s – are moved further back until they are right at the back. Klara’s friends can’t understand why she wanted a B2 model when there are better ones around. Like all technology, obsolescence is built in. The humans talk about Klara being allowed to have a ‘fade’ rather than being dismantled for parts like it is a good death and so when she is no longer needed, she sits in the sun in what sounds like a recycling centre slowly fading.

But people also become obsolescent. Josie’s father lost his job and was replaced by a machine and it is hinted at in the book that there are communities of people like this who have found an alternative life but who are on the edges of society. He professes to not minding but his ex-wife can’t believe that. As Josie grows up and her life changes, so does her need for Klara and so Klara does become obsolescent.

There were several instances in the book where I felt really uncomfortable. One was the ‘interaction meeting’ – we might call it a get together or a party – where the children meet without their parents to learn how to socialise. It is an organised event and the parents are present. Because AFs are designed for children whose parents work long hours, who are educated digitally and who have miminal opportunity to socialise, these events are needed. (Sounds like children post Covid). But the reality of them is that the children are unkind and bullying towards each other, trying to feel superior – who has got a better AF and children who are not ‘uplifted’ are not really part of the in-crowd.

It is at one of these events where some boys suggest that Klara is thrown across the room to them because the B3s are designed to have this happen to them and they will not break. It is the first time that Klara notices a change in attitude from Josie towards her and she can’t work out why.

I also felt very uncomfortable when Klara was not needed and so stood in a dark corner facing the fridge or out on the landing. It was reminiscent of a child who is being punished and so this must mean that I felt that Klara was human or had taken on human traits and needed to be treated humanely and this didn’t feel like that.

The book is a critique of social robots, those that were on the news not that long ago that were to be used to prevent loneliness in elderly people. At one point the book acknowledges that it is impossible to programme or observe for love because it is not in the AFs heart but in those who give the love.

It is a book of remarkable ideas.

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