Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers.
‘The remains of the day’ & ‘Klara and the Sun’: By Kazou Ishiguro
I have just finished two books ‘Remains of the day’ and ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazou Ishiguro back to back and Chandler’s line comes to mind ‘could I be any more awed?!’. Critics have compared his latest masterpiece to his former sci-fi clone romance ‘Never let me go’ but in essence, I feel it’s more like ‘Remains of the day’. Both tackle the themes of unconditional trust and love and a lifetime spent in self-sacrificing service.
Remains of the Day, winner of 1989 Booker prize, and later adapted into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins, follows an ageing old world English butler on a six-day road trip. We discover how he’s struggling to adapt to a changing world and his blind trust in his Nazi sympathising former employer Lord Darlington. Ishiguro expects his readers to work hard, he wants us to imagine, read between the lines and hear the unsaid. We aren’t sitting in the passenger seat here, we are peddling until the finish line. Layers of conscious thought, prattling prose and a concocted notion of dignity need to be sifted for the subconscious. We peel away Mr Stevens’ defensive outer layers to discover what he isn’t saying. He projects, avoids emotions like the plague and misreads situations in his quest for professionalism. Even his narrative voice distances itself from himself by the use of plural rather than singular pronouns. We only get glimpses of reality when he interacts with other characters. The pompous yet vulnerable butler is so blinded by his duty that he sabotages his own happiness and attributes false motives to his master’s obvious iniquitous activities.
‘The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put up your feet and enjoy it,’ a stranger striking a conversation remarks. Mr Stevens reflects in a moment of clarity, ‘I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?’ It is perhaps the only time he thinks purely for himself.
In ‘Klara and the sun’ we see the world from the pixilated eyes of an AF (Artificial Friend). Klara is intriguing, charismatic and sparkles like the sun her survival depends on. From the very start, Klara busts our deepest concern about AI, that of trust. She demonstrates she is independent, yet empathetic.She is chosen by a teenage girl Josie to be her companion and bought by her mother for more sinister reasons. Josie suffers from a deadly illness as a result of genetic engineering to enhance her intelligence. In futuristic America, loneliness is a real concern for socially distant ‘uplifted’ children who don’t go to a regular school.
At one point in the novel, the mother tries to explain to Klara the concept of the human heart, which symbolises the emotional essence of the person which Klara would be required to emulate. Klara would be tasked to become a robotic version of Josie in the event of her death. However, Klara not only understands the concept of the ‘human heart’ but perhaps is more of a mother to Josie in her selfless love. She knows this plan would never work because her family would not love the fake Josie no matter how hard she tries to be her.
Klara busies herself in her own superstitious and dubious plan of requesting the sun to shower his life-giving nourishment and save Josie. She bargains, makes deals and pleads with it. Midway, through the novel, I’m convinced Klara would fail in her illogical plan. The unexpected turn of events sends a whoop of joy through me, at faith winning against all odds, but soon after I cannot stop my tears. In the end, Klara reflects on the scientist’s words that there was nothing special in Josie that couldn’t be continued in a robotic form. She points out that he was looking in the wrong place. That something special is not inside us, but the people who love us and hence we become irreplaceable.
The novel had many profound gems strewn across its length and breadth. In her naïve-childlike, yet intelligent voice we discover the world anew from an AF’s perspective. Her glitching box-like vision highlights multiple versions we carry within ourselves. Her task is to be a friend, until she ‘slow fades’, and I couldn’t come to terms with that ending until I realised that’s what happens to most of us when we near our end.