#ClassicandContemporary book challenge: June

#ClassicandContemporary book challenge:
Fahrenheit 451 and Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Year: March 2021


With Klara and the Sun, we’re already halfway through the #ClassicandContemporary reading challenge! Still more to come, still many books to read, so keep your eyes peeled!

I’ll start with the blurb for a change, and to introduce you to Klara and the Sun, as it is a bit hard to describe in just a few words.

“The novel tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

A thrilling feat of world-building, a novel of exquisite tenderness and impeccable restraint, Klara and the Sun is a magnificent achievement, and an international literary event.”

This is an emotional and sad book. And such a weird one, too. I found the pace to be slow for my liking, nothing out of the ordinary happened, but the story was captivating nevertheless and kept me invested the whole time. It’s definitely an unusual tale of the future, one when we’re situated in the AI era and robots walk around us freely. However, apart from that, the characters’ reality seems very much like our own reality today, the only difference were the AIs. Klara, a highly-intelligent, sensitive and observant robot, befriends a sickly teenager called Josie. “Befriends” is not the most accurate word to describe their relationship, as it’s something usual for kids to have AIs as their friends. In fact, they’re called AFs—Artificial Friends. But Josie and Klara’s connection is different, it’s special from the very beginning. They share many things, but sometimes Josie is a bit cold towards the robot and keeps a lot of things to herself, so I was often confused about whether she really liked her AF. We also meet Josie’s best friend, Rick, the awkward kid from next door. My favourite character of them all would be Josie’s family’s house assistant, referred to by Klara as “Melania Housekeeper”, whose interactions with the rest of the characters, although just a few, were hilarious. The rest of the bunch I couldn’t really get to know that well, as they either made an appearance too briefly or were not memorable enough.

Some plot lines led nowhere, I didn’t see the point in including those additional storylines (like the one with Josie’s father). Josie’s mum, or “the Mother”, as Klara calls her, she was the most enigmatic of all characters, I couldn’t decipher her at all until the end. Some things became clear at one point, but still, she remained a mystery. And what does “lifting” a child even mean? We never got to learn about this and apparently it was important for Rick. Also, Klara was obsessed with the Sun for some reason? Why?! The Sun is in the title of the book, so it must be important, but I honestly didn’t get its role. Is she a plant or something? In fact, AFs of her kind need to be powered by the Sun (not very technologically advanced), but that doesn’t mean you can do the same for a human being. As a whole, there were no plot twists, nothing super impressive or thoughtful, and the story was quite simple.

There are some moments, mostly glimpses of the past, that are mysterious and not quite well explained in too many details, but only touched upon and dismissed. These moments started to become more frequent towards the middle of the book and that’s when you get hooked. You don’t want to stop reading, you want to know more and more, find out all the answers for yourself, but also for the characters. You start sympathising with them, you want to help them, and that means you have to keep reading. However, if you’re looking for answers, you won’t find them so easily. The author doesn’t explain a lot but rather focuses on observation and details of secondary importance. You need to use your imagination to reach a conclusion. Maybe I took mine a bit too far: is it just me, or did some parts of the book seem creepy to any of you, too? I had chills at several points throughout the story. There was this feeling of some sort of fear of the unknown, of the unfamiliarity, the eeriness and mysteriousness, the secrets and the loneliness.

I couldn’t help thinking that the conversations were somewhat flat and rather mechanical. The whole book is related from Klara’s perspective, so that fact also adds to the feeling that this is not how you normally talk to someone. The dialogues felt superficial and artificial, and the irony was that I don’t mean the conversations with the AI, I’m referring to all the rest. Regarding the AI, of course the dialogue would be somewhat unnatural, it’s meant to be. But, there was still something that annoyed me, and it annoys me every time there’s an AI involved in a book.

I’ve always thought that AIs should not only be technologically advanced but they should also be able to gauge how one’s feeling, anticipate their moods and understand what they really mean, even if it’s only implied and not expressed directly. Read the room, in one word (or phrase). This wasn’t the case with Klara, she was constantly wondering what someone meant or was trying to guess how they were feeling. She did get some insights but it was nothing impressive. To be honest, I found her to be naïve and even a little bit stupid. There, I said it. Her determination to help Josie was applaudable, but was it scientifically researched and based on any sort of evidence that what she suggested might actually help the girl? No. And she is an AI, she should know, she should be able to sense and invent some sort of an actual plausible solution or at least offer some piece of advice. So yeah, for me, Klara was the most disappointing character and I had high hopes for her. I’m always curious about what authors decide for their robots, what they “can do”, as this is the excitement of reading science fiction.

Now I realised I sounded like Josie’s friends in a particular scene, when they also wanted to know what Klara can do. It was painful to read about, and I sincerely felt for the poor robot. So this is definitely not what I have in mind when I wonder “what the AI can do”. I’m simply saying that as a science fiction novel, the author should try to be more imaginative and add some extra-terrestrial (that’s maybe taking it too far) or unheard-of qualities to their robots, something that would be impossible for a human being to come up with or to realise.

As a whole, the characters are a bit strange and cold. I think that “cold” describes them well. They didn’t show many emotions, especially the mother, and on the rare occasions that she did, it was awkward. I just couldn’t get what everyone was thinking! As I’ve explained earlier, the author’s tendency to say less with even less words added to this feeling of “what is going on here?”. You, as a reader, are left with only the gist of it for quite a long time and some scarce details here and there that actually bring something meaningful to the plot. Otherwise, you just follow the main lines of the story, which I’m not saying they’re not interesting enough, because they are. But often you want to know more about something else, and have so many other questions. However, you have to rely on our own imagination, if you want to reach some sort of a closure. The end is also vague, but weirdly, I liked it. At that point it was already clear I wouldn’t get any answers, so what was another mystery added to the mix.

As I said in the beginning, it’s an emotional and sad book, when you think about it in the end. In its heart lies love and the never-ending fear of losing it, feeling it escaping through our fingers. It’s about loss and how the holes it leaves break us apart. It’s about trying to cope and never giving up on the ones we love, doing the impossible to overcome any sort of difficulties. It’s not my favourite piece of science fiction but if I were you, I’d give it a go, as it’s very readable and adorable, despite all of its shortcomings.

Fahrenheit 451
(mini review)

Author: Ray Bradbury

Genre: Classics, Dystopian Fiction

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Year: 1953


Fahrenheit 451 quickly became a favourite read of mine. Of all the dystopian books I’ve read so far, this is the one I “enjoyed” the most. I do realise this is a weird thing to say about a dystopia, but I only say it from the perspective of a reader evaluating a book on its literary characteristics and merits. Of course I didn’t enjoy the contents or the idea that this may one day become reality. Now that I think about it… There are many similarities with our world as it is now. Again. Another dystopian novel that hits too close to home. Great.

We’ll pass the books on to our children, by word of mouth, and let our children wait, in turn, on the other people. A lot will be lost that way, of course. But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them. It can’t last.

Although we don’t get a clear explanation of why books are banned in the future, we can form an idea ourselves. Technology and the endless means of entertainment play a big part in the lack of interest in reading, and also the fact that books are considered dangerous, they can get ideas into your head and you may decide to act on them. It’s not in everyone’s interest for so many people to suddenly start thinking for themselves, to become aware of things otherwise buried under meaningless advertisements, to use their voices otherwise muffled by loud music. Too much stimulation leads to poor concentration and inability to make rational decisions. Whoever dares to think differently (or think at all), is considered strange and insane. This is the sad setting of the book. Sound familiar?

Fahrenheit 451 deals with the themes of censorship and dissatisfaction, the disparity between society’s beliefs and the world it lives in, the realisation that your values mean nothing, that you’re not entitled to an opinion on how things should be. The lack of control finally gets to a point that drives the main character, Guy Montag, to finally act against the status quo. For me, the moment of realisation, and the most powerful part of the book, is when he witnesses a rebellious woman burn herself alive. What awakens his consciousness and incites his transformation is the fact that this woman strikingly chooses to die rather than let the firemen take away her books.

The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

There’s also the element of envy. People don’t like to feel inferior to those who have read more than they have. This creates an imbalance and tension between knowledge and ignorance. The fireman’s duty is to destroy knowledge and promote ignorance in order to equalise the population and promote sameness. In the end, the book finishes on a somewhat positive note, distinguishing between the previous society that collapsed due to its refusal of knowledge, and the new society that can use that same knowledge to serve as its foundation.

Which one would you choose?

In case you need me… #owlbeereading!

Your name
Your email address
Your comment