ONE of the most surprising things about Klara and the Sun is its timing. Kazuo Ishiguro had almost finished it by the time the pandemic hit, and yet central to his story is that children are working from home with the aid of online tutors. The resulting loneliness creates a market for artificial friends — AFs — and Klara, the narrator, is one of them.
Despite being a robot, Klara has a remarkable capacity to feel and to understand the feelings of others. “I believe I have many feelings,” she says. “The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.”
There are strong resonances between Klara and Cathy, who narrates Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go. Both are sensitive, intelligent, unselfish, and naïve. Both reveal to the reader aspects of their world that they do not fully grasp themselves, so that sometimes the reader understands more than they do. Both are of low intrinsic value to those with power over their lives, leading to an almost unbearable sense of fragility.
But Klara has a direction and purpose that Cathy hasn’t. Knowing that she is solar-powered, Klara builds a whole belief system around her relationship with the sun. She comes to believe the sun to be worthy of worship, a force for good in the world which calls her to contribute.
Through this relationship, Klara finds order and meaning for her life, and, at the end of the story, when she is near death, she is happy resting under the sky, where “I am able to watch the Sun’s journey unimpeded and even on cloudy days, I am always aware of where he is above me.”
It seems audacious to claim that Klara and the Sun is about the human search for God, when Klara is not human and God is not mentioned once, but Ishiguro never reveals his themes simply or easily. Instead, he engages his reader in a shared search for meaning, and drops heavy clues in his titles. For me, Klara and the Sun is, at its heart, a story about the power of faith to help us to find purpose in our lives and understand our place in the world.
The Ven. Catherine Pickford is the Archdeacon of Northolt, in London diocese.
Klara and the Sun
Faber & Faber £20
Church Times Bookshop £18