Like Remains of the Day, Klara rolls along at a steady pace, without extremes of suspense or drama. Nevertheless, the looming potential for tragedy and an emotional investment in the complex characters sustains reader interest.
My husband found the ending disappointingly anticlimactic and open-ended. I concede the point, although I appreciated the artful exploration of themes and questions—human relationships, the nature of belief, what constitutes identity. Certainly no fiction writer worth the paper her book is printed on would admit to smuggling a message into its pages. But if Ishiguro puts forth any discernable proposition it is this: that the love other people bear us is what constitutes the immortal essence of our being. Such a notion inevitably raises—and certainly intends to raise—further questions.
In one intriguing development, Klara constructs essentially religious beliefs around the sun, which powers her. This thought-provoking device raises several questions, both mechanical and philosophical. With regard to the former, one wonders why Klara’s programmers would supply her with a thorough knowledge of mathematics but omit such details as the construction of the solar system (click here for previous post, Klara and the Sun, Part I).
On a deeper level, Klara’s belief system raises the question of whether Ishiguro attributes a similar source to human religion. Against our expectations, the hopes Klara has pinned on the perceived healing properties of the sun are ultimately fulfilled, reinforcing her misapprehensions. The human characters never mention religion. But one could conclude that it is the product of human imagination and the coincidental reinforcement of our hopes and beliefs.
Does Klara love Josie? Does Josie love Klara? It is tempting to invoke The Velveteen Rabbit (which perplexed me as a child and still fail to compel). If being loved is what defines and perpetuates us, what is the significance of Klara’s abandonment at the end of the book (keeping in mind that she is still an AI—no Pinocchio transformations here)?
As someone who espouses the biblical assumption of an immaterial soul, I believe we are destined to persist as more than a lingering affection in the hearts and minds of our loved ones. Perhaps the truth in Ishiguro’s proposition is that it is the love our Creator bears us that imbues us with identity and significance.
Humans vs. Androids
Ishiguro’s setting is only thinly manifest, and much is left to conjecture. We never learn, for example, what sort of government orders the society or what circumstances have induced Josie’s father to leave his job and live in a marginalized community.
One debate in Ishiguro’s futuristic society that is not so far removed from our own is the treatment of androids. The idea that we might make so little distinction between beings with and without souls as to ascribe human rights to androids is troubling. On the other hand, the mental and emotional callousness that could result from habitually disposing of or doing violence to humanoid machines holds likewise disturbing possibilities.
Ishiguro has unquestionably produced a compelling story that occasions thought and discussion on multiple levels.