KLARA AND THE SUN
Sometime in the future, in some kind of America, Klara waits in a shop window for someone to choose her. Klara is an AF, a solar-powered artificial friend whose purpose is to provide help and companionship to the gifted children of the elite. Klara is our sole narrator – highly intelligent, more observant than even the other models in her range, and almost disconcertingly empathetic.
Klara and the Sun is the latest by Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and author of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, two novels that almost mesh here – to brilliant effect. What Ishiguro asks across his work are questions about identity. Who are we? How can we know who we are? Is there such a thing as an authentic self? Should we even be looking for answers to this anyway? Sometimes his characters seem to know exactly who they are at the narrative’s outset but by the end they’ve lost all grip. In Klara and the Sun, maybe Klara comes closest to keeping hold of herself – but when we remember she’s an android, isn’t that a disorientating fact?
Easy to read and alive with some of his best descriptions, particularly about the sun, much must be read between the lines. Ishiguro is subtle. He doesn’t lay it all out on the table. The world he writes isn’t our own but the politics and the social and cultural implications very much are. This work has a clunkiness that sometimes feels off-putting but is almost certainly another of Ishiguro’s provocative devices. There’s light here too, it’s not only the uncanny. Klara’s naivety, her mistakes, her faith, her loyalty – reflections of that which is beautiful in our flawed and fragile human lives.
To visit planet Earth you will have to be born as a human child.
At first you will have to learn to use your new body, to move your arms and legs, you will learn to walk and run, to use your hands, to make sounds and form words. There will be so much for you to learn and so much for you to feel – sadness, joy, disappointment, and wonder. You will grow up, travel and work. Over the years you will try to make sense of that happy, sad, full, always-shifting life you are in. And when the time comes to return to your star, it may be hard to say goodbye to that strangely beautiful world.
from Star Child by Claire A. Nivola
When single mother Viv needs to go away for a while, she asks Johnny – her somewhat estranged brother – to come and look after her nine year old son Jesse. What follows is one of the gentlest, most profound pieces of cinema I’ve watched in a long time.
The film works as a kind of scrapbook – there’s Johnny’s story, Jesse’s, Viv’s but there’s also an incredible layering of real kids from across America sharing their thoughts and - frankly brilliant - insights about life and the future. Shot in black and white, the film has a documentary-style feel both intimate and epic. Johnny is an Ira Glass type figure travelling to Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans. Each place is distinct, vibrant, but the black and white binds them together – incandescent pearls on a meandering narrative string. Director Mike Mills often shoots through doorways, a perspective that consistently draws you in. And this perhaps is one of the keys to the film – a desire to pull focus. In essence it’s about paying attention. It’s about small things that are actually big. It’s about family, parenting, love, listening, the future, what it means to be human. It’s a film about people trying their best to be good to one another and not always getting it right. At one point Viv says to Johnny - ‘No one knows what they’re doing. You’ve just got to keep doing it.’
Disarming, generous, funny, full of empathy: Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, Gaby Hoffmann as Viv, and Woody Norman as Jesse absolutely nail it. The score too – the San Francisco Saxaphone Quartet’s rendition of Clair De Lune a particular gem – just spot on. Add to that, an eclectic, compelling list of literary texts scattered about and immediately added to my Amazon wish list (one of which is Star Child, quoted above). This hopeful, expansive film is definitely one to start the year with.
NATIONAL POETRY LIBRARY
The first few months of the year see us hunkering down, looking ahead, welcoming the Year of the Tiger, embracing/avoiding Valentine’s Day, heaping love on our mothers and celebrating women in all their power. One place that beckons? The National Poetry Library: an unassuming haven tucked up on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall. Free to all, and housing the largest collection of modern poetry in the world, this is a place for EVERYONE. If you can’t find the words, you’ll find them there.
Two poems we’ll be leaning on to see us through till spring:I am Running into a New Year
I am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that I catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what I said to myself
when I was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
I am running into a new year
and i beg what I love and
I leave to forgive me
Instructions on Not Giving Up
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.