Sunday, 13 June 2021

Klara and the Sun

I am ambivalent about 'Klara and the Sun' by Kazuo Ishiguro. It left me feeling sad, rather I feel, on reflection, like I felt sad at the end of 'Never Let Me Go'. It is told from the perspective of Klara, an Artificial Friend. I grew to like her, but it was strange, because Klara does not think of herself as a 'person', appears to have few desires of her own, and little understanding of the world, and I wondered how this rather hollow human shaped thing was supposed to make a good 'friend'. All the futuristic aspects of the story are left ambiguous, unexplained; there is some kind of genetic enhancement, making better babies, and only the better ones get advantages, but it is never made explicit. Why does this supposedly sophisticated robot not know anything? She is solar powered and has these weird ideas about the magical power of the sun. She seems to spend much of her time just standing around like a piece of furniture until someone feels like interacting with her. The style is rather stilted, because Klara has such limited life experience she doesn't have much of interest to say and her observations are mostly superficial. It gradually emerges that Klara's role is to learn to replace her owner Josie, who may be dying of some vague wasting condition, raising the question of course of whether there is more to a human being than their physical presence, their way of interacting with the world, their ways of talking. Klara thinks she could learn to imitate Josie, but is not sure that will make her an adequate substitute. In some ways it did remind me of 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan, because nobody is really accepting that the artificial creation is actually the equivalent of a human being, in neither book are they treated as anything other than a thing, a possession. Klara has no autonomy, she is unsure about making choices for herself, does not go places without permission, does not initiate anything, accepts that her role is to be a thing for Josie, not that Josie owes her anything in return. Now while, in some ways, that might be seen as the definition of love, to selflessly sacrifice for someone else, it's rather more akin to slavery, since she is not doing it voluntarily, she has no notion of living a life for herself. She ends up in a junk yard, which was just a huge waste in my opinion; why create this supposedly amazing (and presumable expensive) thing, and then just discard it. So, in the end, I was left profoundly dissatisfied. When I imagine artificial intelligence I think of 'Ex Machina', a robot who wants a life for herself, and will stop at nothing to attain it. Here Klara beats herself up over a trip that she takes alone with the Mother:

"Naturally then, in the days that followed, I thought often about why the interaction meeting should cast no shadows at all, but Morgan's Falls, despite my complying with Josie's and the Mother's wishes, had produced such consequences. Again, the possibility came into my mind that my limitations, in comparison to the B3's, has somehow made themselves obvious that day, causing both Josie and the Mother to regret the choice they'd made. If this were so, I knew my best course was to work harder than ever to be a good AF to Josie until the shadows receded. At the same time, what was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made manoeuvres that were very complex and hard to fathom, and I saw it was possible that the consequences of Morgan's Falls had at no stage been within my control." (p.113)

Stay safe. Be kind. Love the real humans around you.


  1. I think KI blows hot and cold with his writing - sometimes majestic; occasionally repetitive. Amazed at myself for writing that about a nobel winner, but it's how I find his work.

    1. I know what you mean, I feel I have to be deferential to 'great' writers but sometimes am less than impressed. Wrote this about Philip Roth a few years ago


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