’Maybe Love and Loneliness Are Not that Different After All’: A Dialogue about Klara and the Sun
Creative Criticism by Aristi Makrygiannaki
“Have you started reading Klara and the Sun?”
“Well… no, to be honest.”
“Come on, why? You love Ishiguro’s stories, and I got it for you because I really wanted us to talk about it.”
“Um, thank you very much for your gift but…”
“No, no buts. I know, you don’t like stories about the future and artificial intelligence because the present is hard enough to worry about the future, but this one is not just a dystopian science fiction novel. It’s about what it means to be human, to love, to hope, to sacrifice, to make choices. And all this comes from a non-human narrator, which makes it more appealing. You see, Klara is an Artificial Friend—called AF—who is supposed to give company to teenagers. In the beginning, Klara is at a store waiting for a kid to choose her. You’ll like her more and more as the story progresses, especially when she tries to understand the environment and people’s interactions, because her unique quality is to learn through observation. Her perspective is so childish and naïve, yet she exposes people’s behaviors to the reader without even intending it. Listen to this:
when we were still quite new, we’d gathered at the window to see as best we could three policemen fighting with Beggar Man and his dog in front of the blank doorway. But that hadn’t been an angry fight, the Manager had been worried about Beggar Man because he’d become drunk and they’d only trying to help him.
Klara is someone who hasn’t developed critical thinking. Her narrative reflects what the manager wants her to believe: that she and the policemen just want to help the beggar. Ishiguro uses Klara’s point of view to criticize this act of coercion implicitly in a humorous and ironic way.
But especially when it comes to human emotions, a non-human narrator, who doesn’t fully understand but tries to speak about them with people, makes us look at them from a new perspective. From this we can have a deeper understanding of human emotions. Hear this, too:
…and she and the man were holding each other so tightly they were like one large person […] the man had his eyes tightly shut, and I wasn’t sure if he was very happy or very upset.
‘Those people seem so pleased to see each other,’ Manager said. […]
‘Yes, they seem so happy,’ I said. ‘But it’s strange because they also seem upset.’
‘Perhaps they hadn’t met for a long time. A long, long time. Perhaps when they last held each other like that, they were still young.’
‘Do you mean, Manager, they lost each other?’
To me, this description feels very alive and emotional, even though it is so simple. Klara doesn’t understand how people can be both happy and sad at the same time, and she keeps asking until she does. Her analysis of something that we usually take for granted makes us think differently about it and appreciate it.
And it goes on…”
“Hey, hey, are you going to spoil the whole book now?”
“What happened? Suddenly you want to read it? I knew it! But no, it’s not a spoiler. It has nothing to do with the storyline, trust me.”
“But what about the Manager? Isn’t she trying to manipulate Klara’s understanding of the world or even dictate how she should feel?”
“Maybe, but isn’t this what happens in real life anyway? Isn’t there someone telling us how things ought to be and how to feel about everything, especially when we were new like Klara? But here we are, some of the things we have learned we are trying to revoke, and some others we still don’t know where they come from! I also think Klara will have many opportunities to hear different perspectives later when– ”
“Okay, I must stop you now, my friend, I don’t want to hear any more spoilers. I’ll just grab my coffee and leave. See you.”
“Okay, so to be clear, there is so much I haven’t understood yet because Ishiguro delays the evolution of his narrative—as always—and won’t let us know anything until we explode with curiosity. So, what’s the thing with the capitalized Sun and his special nourishment? I understand that the Sun provides these AFs with solar energy, but the terms with which Klara addresses the Sun are almost religious. When she was at the store and was observing people outside the window, she actually believed that the Beggar Man and his dog were dead and the Sun revived them the next day! Isn’t she supposed to use reason and think logically, since she is an android?”
“But then, if she could think only with pure logic, how could she become friends with Josie? People don’t think with logic at all, I suppose that’s why. But it’s interesting that she is actually trying to help Josie to recover with the powers of the Sun, right? She even made a deal with the Sun.”
“I guess if the Sun is what gives Klara life, this is where she will turn for help. And she thinks she can offer the Sun an exchange for it. It is, again, a sort of religion. It is about hope through faith. But now I want to ask you, are we ever going to find out what this mysterious illness of Josie’s is? We sort of find out that she’s ill from the moment she buys Klara as her AF, and I want to know why. Am I asking too much? And Josie’s sister had some mysterious illness and died? We also don’t know much about this distinction between her and her friend Rick. Is it something about lifted kids? What’s that?”
“Someone’s got no patience…”
“Oh, the most annoying part: what’s going on with the Mother? That’s how Klara refers to her: the Mother. By the way I love Klara’s language, it’s childish and naïve, but speaks with such intelligence. Anyway, back to the Mother.”
“Right, Josie’s mother, such an interesting character.”
“You think? She asked Klara to imitate her daughter to decide if she’s the right AF for her? And later she decides to take Klara to some trip without Josie, because she wasn’t feeling well, and then asks Klara again to act like Josie. But when she speaks exactly like Josie, the Mother totally freaks out! At least she has started to like Klara by now because she didn’t seem so fond of her in the beginning.”
“I don’t know what to say here. I really like her as a character. She’s very complex and is clearly suffering from depression. She actually says to Klara: ‘It must be nice sometimes to have no feelings. I envy you.’ Wait. Here:
There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought I was getting to feel less and less. A little less each day. I didn’t know if I was happy about that or not. But now, lately, I seem to be getting overly sensitive to everything.
She needs to talk about her feelings with someone so much that she speaks with her daughter’s AF.”
“Yes, but Klara is a very good listener, you must admit it. The more she observes the more she understands. The second time she imitated Josie in front of her mother, she was able to focus her vision boxes on her emotions and understand that she was both happy and sad. On the other hand, I still don’t understand why.”
“Now you’re being annoying. Just read the rest.”
“Don’t hang up. There’s one more thing. You said this book is about love. But is it? Why does it seem to me that everything is about loneliness? Klara seems to learn something about loneliness from every character. This is even the reason AFs exist. And her conclusions are quite accurate. Like here, listen:
At the same time, what was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made maneuvers that were very complex and hard to fathom.
And, wait, I have another one:
I’m surprised someone would desire so much a path that would leave her in loneliness.
‘And that’s what surprises you?’
‘Yes. Until recently, I didn’t think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful than the wish to avoid loneliness.’
“Yeah, maybe love and loneliness are not that different after all.”
“I am literally terrified of this concept. I just couldn’t read any more. I closed the book immediately. The Mother would have wanted Klara to continue Josie if she had died? To be her? Was this the reason why the portrait she was supposed to pose for is mentioned repeatedly, without her knowledge? That is so cruel and so horrifying as a critique on humanity. I mean…
The second Josie won’t be a copy. She’ll be exact the same and you’ll have every right to love her just as you love Josie now. It’s not faith you need. Only rationality. I had to do it, it was tough but now it works for me just fine. And it will work for you.
Really? Is this how we work? Are we capable of replacing everything, even human beings, in order to avoid the pain of dealing with loss? And is it possible to exist only for the others to love our existence? What are we supposed to do? Here:
I think I hate Capaldi because deep down I suspect he may be right […] that there’s nothing so unique about my daughter, nothing there our modern tools can’t excavate, copy, transfer. That people have been living with one another all this time, centuries, loving and hating each other, and all on a mistaken premise.
In addition to that, the fact that Josie’s sickness is a result of the process of being lifted to have better opportunities in education and in life is disheartening. Especially when there is a danger for children not to make it through the required genetic alteration and actually die, which is what happened with Josie’s sister. And her mother still made the decision to risk Josie’s life after all. And she didn’t have any regrets even when she almost lost her. And Josie agreed she wouldn’t have preferred not having the genetic edits, when Mother asked. Wow! I mean, are there any boundaries as to how far we will go just to fit in to society? Has our society become so hostile to humans, and we haven’t even noticed?
But things don’t stop there. As I said, I closed the book. Then I went to sleep. And Klara came up in my dream, as if she were my own AF. Well, in the beginning it was really great because she was willing to tidy my room for me so clothes weren’t all over the floor. Some moments later the scene changed. I was not in the room, but Klara was there talking to another person that I couldn’t see. And Klara was talking about me. She was saying that she was really sad because she didn’t know how to make me happy. She was only trying to be a good AF and to make me feel less lonely, but she didn’t know what else to do because I didn’t even talk to her. She observed that I avoided her all the time while she was trying to tell me about the emotions she did not understand; that I stopped talking to her because that was easier for me to do than to explain. She also said that I started distracting myself with things she couldn’t understand. Everything became very confusing after that, but the last thing I remember is her saying that I should be replaced, because I was so damaged that I could no longer be fixed.”
“Was this a dream or a nightmare?”
“I don’t know.”
Aristi Makrygiannaki is a current student of the MA Literature Today at Utrecht University. She completed her Bachelor in Greece, where politics and society were in a crisis during the COVID-19 lockdown. She found her solace in literature while dealing with these sociopolitical issues.
- Ishiguro, Kazuo. Klara and the Sun. Faber & Faber Limited. 2021.