"An extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. "You've long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it's time now to think on it anew. There's a journey we must go on, and no more delay. . ." The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war"--
“Are you still there, Axl?”
“Still here, princess.”
Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple, who decide to cross the country, to visit their son. They have not seen him in many years. It is the Dark Ages, sometime after King Arthur's reign. The Britons and Saxons are not at war but the mood remains tense and unstable. There are many dangers along the way, making this a dark and perilous journey. The couple team up with an aged Knight, appointed by Arthur, who assists them along the way.
This is an interesting tale, combining history with fantasy. It is deliberately paced and deceptively simple in structure. The themes here, hover under the surface but it is a story about the power of memory and the value of forgetfulness. What we repress and what we cherish.
Ishiguro is known for tackling a variety of settings and issues and he does not disappoint here.
Distilled to its bones, The Buried Giant is really just a love story. Not the usual kind but one that focuses on old age and the idea of being in a marriage or partnership with your soul mate over the long run, basically playing with the idea of until-death-do-us-part. It's pretty clear that Beatrice is sick and dying early on, and that the boatman they meet at the start and end of their journey is some kind stand-in for death (Ishiguro uses a blunt hand with his symbols and allusions, so watch out for that; it can feel a little condescending). So you can pretty much guess what happens in that final scene when the elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, take the voyage to the island. What's telling in that scene is that Beatrice makes that journey with the boatman without Axl at her side. She's alone. In fact, Axl just walks away in the other direction, and it all seems confusing especially since he's been so doting and devoted throughout (the pair was inseparable).
Basically, this is Ishiguro drawing attention to that single immutable universal truth: We all die. A possible corollary: We all die alone. According to Ishiguro, It doesn't matter if you've weathered a lifetime together with someone, that final voyage into the light (or into oblivion) is going to be a solo trip.
Aside from the love story dimension, The Buried Giant is also squarely about memory and history, both individual and collective. There is a mysterious mist that has robbed people of their memories. It's not total amnesia but a kind erosion of unpleasant memories, very much in the vein of 'Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind.' The journey that Axl and Beatrice go on eventually turns into a mission to help rid the land of that mist, to recover the past, and to remember. Ishiguro's point seems to be that there's a cost to that. Peace throughout the land and relative social harmony between Britons and Saxons seems to depend on that mist blunting the pain and horror of past violence and war. Bitterness and vengeance and cycles of war and sectarian violence are, after all, consequences of never forgetting. Memory and history can be its own tyranny. Maybe the truth won't set you free.
Boom. Pretty nihilistic and dark. Finishing The Buried Giant left me uneasy and a little sad.
Until some down time a few months later. So I reached for it, and it would not let me go. In fact it worked its own strange spell, as strange as that of the breath of she-dragon Querig, compelling and rewarding this reader yet without cause to have done so. The characters trudge along, make their way towards various self-discoveries that emerge from a mystical mist of amnesia, and leave me. And that’s it, really. I think the goat survives.
Or does it? Does anyone? The sixth century is a strange lull in the history of the British Isles. At least according to the narrative Arthur’s peace has held, but can peace ever hold where xenophobia and perceived injustice lurk? Saxons loiter with intent, and only amnesia holds them at bay. Pilgrims meander, though amnesia tends to make them wonder why, whither and whence from time to time. Recollections of a life once lived form, and then prove to be chimeric, slipping away. Bad things, good things … things just happen. Amnesia is redemptive. Or does it condemn? One or the other. Amnesia makes it hard to know, really, for the coordinates, the reference points are lost, and why were we loving and hating and fighting and walking anyway?
And eventually, one supposes, the Saxons will return, and blood will flow again. Comme ci comme ça. Yet I could not put this book down, and my life is that iota the richer for reading it. I think. What was it about, again?
Ishiguro has a special fondness for the theme of forgetfulness, especially as it relates to personal and political identity. His early novels examined this issue from the perspective of an individual corruption of memory/history. Here he broadens his canvas to a collective forgetting, a necessary forgetting (possibly). The land is steeped in blood, in the horrors of war, and in the atrocities that are committed even by those whose aim is just. How can there be peace in such a land if the victims remember the harms that have been done to them? Without forgetfulness is there any hope at all for peace? Or is the peace that passeth understanding all that we can hope for?
These are serious matters. So it is perhaps wise for Ishiguro to dig into the founding myths of British identity in order to explore them. On the surface is a tale of a journey. But below, swirling in the mist, is so much more. I don’t know whether Ishiguro is ultimately successful here. But it is good to see him once again tackling the hard questions. Recommended.
I never approach a Kazuo Ishiguro novel without expecting to feel ever so slightly flat when I finish it, but I read them anyway. The man is a true artist in the way Turner is a true artist—yes, his work is recognizably a story in the way Turner’s greatest works are recognizably a painting of something, and is underpinned by structure and a huge amount of intelligence, but it can be bloody hard work to discern your reference points. This, I guess, is literary genius, but it’s hard to recognize sometimes as a novel.
Fortunately, I read somewhere that The Buried Giant is about the way society forgets things, and that helped to guide me a little as Axl and Beatrice set off from their Briton village to visit their son, who resides somewhere they can’t remember, or at least they’re pretty sure he does, or have they forgotten? As they wander over the landscape they encounter others: a Saxon warrior, a strange old woman who kills rabbits, a boatman, a boy called Edwin who occasionally grabs the point of view, Sir Gawain from the Arthurian legends and his horse, Horace. Flashes of memory suggest that the mild-mannered Axl and his devoted wife have more to them than meets the eye, but nobody really has a clue because of the memory-robbing mist that besets the more or less peaceful land. And what’s up with the pain in Beatrice’s side? And why didn’t the people in their village let them have a candle? (Actually, if anyone figured that one out, I’d like to know.)
The apparently meandering story eventually resolves itself into a quest, or perhaps several quests. It’s as if the other characters are partly there to herd Axl and Beatrice toward their role in witnessing a pivotal change in the memory landscape that will have untold consequences for their own people, and considerable personal implications. The novel ends with a moment of hope followed by bleakness, which is just as well, because if Ishiguro gave up his bleakness he wouldn’t be Ishiguro.
What I think I’m getting from this allegory is that for a society, forgetting or remembering is a conscious decision, and not one that can be made lightly. Choosing to forget past injuries can bring about a more peaceful world, but not one that’s necessarily helpful for its inhabitants, and it’s at best a temporary peace, a sleeping monster that can be awakened. On a personal level the choice is less clear and the consequences more immediate—our memories are both joyful and sad, and that’s what we have to live with. Ishiguro is certainly also saying something about old age, as many of the characters are elderly, and in fact the land of the Britons is in its dotage, with the glories of King Arthur a fading memory. The lifting of the forgetful peace will bring tragedy, but ultimately renewal.
Well, you don’t embark on an Ishiguro novel without expecting to have to think about it, and The Buried Giant doesn’t disappoint on that score. And yet I felt he could have done the job in less time—there seemed to be an awful lot of unnecessary verbiage in the middle portions of the novel, and I found it hard to stay interested in places. Every point that’s raised has to be so thoroughly debated that the more proactive among us are pretty much screaming for some action, and since Axl and Beatrice are elderly they stop to rest A LOT. They’re kind of adorable—Axl calls Beatrice “Princess” and they utterly rely on one another—and yet at the same time the flashes of memory we get from them and the other characters reminds us that inside every Darby and Joan couple are the vigorous young people they used to be, people who took an active part in life and affected the world for good or ill. We tend to forget that when we’re dealing with our own elderly, vague, and physically frail family members, and that can be the cruelest forgetting of all.
I was intrigued enough for the first hundred pages as Ishiguro explored Saxons and Britons and slowly dropped clues that seemed to develop an allegory on aging. Then suddenly it genre-jumped to full-on fantasy, including dangerous forests, ogres, pixies and a dragon. Honestly, I kept envisioning ... Shrek! I realize I strongly prefer realistic fiction, but I'd expected Ishiguro's writing to keep me engaged. Instead, I never connected with a character (except maybe
I had a similar experience with Colson Whitehead, whose writing I love but whose dystopian zombie novel (Zone One) was as difficult for me to finish as this by Ishiguro; the endings of both were only slightly satisfying considering the persistence needed to get there. If you do enjoy folktales or the fantasy genre, your experience will vary from mine. But I don't think you'll find Ishiguro's writing as strong as in his other books.
When I first began to read The Buried Giant, by my favourite author, Kazuo Ishiguro, I was fiercely reminded of the story in Part Three of The Mabinogion. Two heros, returning to their women from a long and bloody war, find the landscape of their homeland altered.
One of Alan Lee's illustrations from the Lady
Charlotte Guest translation of the Mabinogion
…suddenly there was a clap of thunder and, with such a great clap of thunder, a fall of mist so that no-one could see anyone else. After the mist, everywhere was filled with bright light, And when they looked where before they would have once seen flocks and herds and dwellings, they could see nothing at all: neither house, nor animal, nor smoke, nor fire, nor man, nor dwelling…not-one left except the four of them…
These four central characters wander this enchanted version of Britain until two of them are tempted into an enchanted castle and find themselves struck dumb and unable to move when they touch a golden blow beside a fountain.
One of the major themes and motifs of The Buried Giant is a mysterious mist, and I wondered immediately if Ishiguro had been influenced by ‘the mab’. He wouldn’t have been alone; it is likely that E. E. Nesbit was. In her book The Enchanted Castle, she creates a castle with living statues. Half a century later, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jadis, the White Witch, fills her castle with statues of Narnians she has turned to stone. Was C.S. Lewis influenced by Nesbit, or The Mabinogion itself?
Using myth to present ideas to today’s readers is not an uncommon one; we are all bound up, whether we know it or not, by the stories that define us, the archetypes that form our understanding of how the world works. With this already in my mind, I couldn’t help wonder if Ishiguro likewise had been likewise influenced. Just as in ‘the mab’, a deep theme of The Buried Giant is symbolized by a mist which has covered Britain and is making the inhabitants forgetful. The people are under an enchantment…and the book itself seems enchanted, for this spellbinding story is an allegory set out as a quest…a quest for a dragon, for family, and for memory itself.
Several decades after the death of King Arthur, the original Britons are sharing their land with Saxons who are threatening to take over. An elderly British couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off to find their son, journeying through a landscape infested by ogres and pixies, and a dragon, Querig, who, it is said, is polluting the country with its breath, causing the mist which has resulted in an epidemic of amnesia. Axl and Beatrice want their memories back, but are fearful. Little glimpses into the past suggest things were different when they were young.
Axl and Beatrice encounter two warriors, a Saxon called Master Wistan, and the aged Sir Gawain, who both declare they are on a quest to slay Querig. They also take up with a young boy who has been inflicted with a strange bite.
Their travel leads them into haphazard and troublesome misadventures, each revealing the human condition and the mysteries of life. One of my favourite moments in the book happens when Axle and Beatrice are sheltering from the rain. They watch an old woman slaughter rabbits to torture the sensitivities of a boatman. The old woman tells them she knows the man; he promised to ferry her and her husband to an island where they would both live. The boatman deceived her, saying he could only manage one passenger at a time. He carried her husband to the island, but never returned for her.
Hearing this story, Beatrice becomes anxious that she might be separated from Axl. Again, I was reminded of The Mabinogion, and of the early Irish myths, in which islands, especially islands surrounded by mist, usually represent the otherworld, or the next world. This ‘story in a story’ affected me on a deep, almost subconscious level, and I became as desperate as Beatrice that she should not be left behind.
As I read deeply into the book, I could see it set up as many questions as it was answering. Are the supernatural creatures real, or just in the minds of the characters? What is it that Axl and Beatrice have forgotten? Who was Axl when he was young? Why does Beatrice not always trust him? Are the two warriors being truthful about their quests? What will happen if the dragon is slain? And, most importantly…what or who is the Buried Giant?
Ishiguro deftly exposes human nature with its weaknesses and strengths through his lyrical and emotive prose. His format is that of allegory, rather than the straightforward historical or fantasy novel, for as the messages are slowly revealed, and the characters face the effects of memory loss and the challenges of their journeys, I found myself examining this in the light of today’s world. The characters show pride, deception, lack of trust, disloyalty and disrespect. They constantly face danger, abandomnent, loss, illness and death, but also find awakening love, compassion and courage.
People have found this book mysterious, provocative and uncomfortably. It is unlike other modern novels, but I think Ishiguro means for it to be unique. He means for us to be challenged – to stop and puzzle the story out. The fact that all his other books are equally distinctive is one of the major reasons I love his work; he is without comparison, in my opinion.
The Buried Giant echoes the strange dream logic of the Mabinogion, where the tales are tangled and broken and yet weave a passionate magic; I recently spent an entire weekend at a symposium on ‘the mab’. It would not have surprised me to learn that Ishiguro might use Welsh myths in this way, as he loves to take difficult themes and try to make some sense of them. In this book, the early confusions finally resolve into significance, but like myths themselves some extremely profound speculations cannot ever be perfectly clear.
All Ishiguro’s books have a certain ‘dream logic’ where things are never really as they appear and core emotions, such as guilt, regret and fear of death lie just under the surface. Check out my review of one of his previous novels, The Unconsoled (1995 Faber & Faber) KTWs reading club
Gawain and the Green Knight
So was this book influenced by ‘the mab’? His answer is revealed in an interview with Guernica magazine, where Ishiguro discloses that he was, in fact drawn to the 14th Century Authurian legend, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – and even then, the major impact was that of setting – something I love to use myself. An entire novel can grow out of its setting, if a writer becomes immersed in it.
In the Guernica article, Ishiguro says…What really sparked my imagination as far as The Buried Giant was concerned was [a] tiny little description of the country [Sir Gawain] was crossing. It sounds like such a weird place. Britain in those days was really rough. There weren’t any inns or anything like that where he could stay, so he had to sleep on rocks in the pouring rain—I don’t know why he had to sleep on rocks, he could have slept under a tree, but that’s what it says—and there are a couple of lines that say that he was chased by wolves and wild boar and panting ogres…I thought, “This is a rather interesting landscape.”
The very first and oldest tales of King Arthur are in The Mabinogion, first set down in the twelfth century and written in Middle Welsh. I would love to know if Ishiguro, among many of our great literary writers, has dipped into this fascinating text.
Our scene is post Arthurian Britain; the Romans are long gone, and the place is falling to ruin. Yet Arthur's hard won peace between the Saxons and the Britons holds; Britons and Saxons live together in relative harmony. But a strange affliction has overtaken the inhabitants - that of forgetfulness. The past has retreated and only the immediate present holds any interest. Our elderly protagonists, Axl and Beatrice, have fallen on hard times. Forbidden a candle in case, in their dotage, they cause a fire, they plan a long postponed trip to find their son; except they cannot remember why or when he left, or where he lives now
But they set out on their journey - or quest - anyway, and as with any decent quest, they meet on the way a range of characters who help, hinder and harm them in their travails. And as they journey, dark corners of their memory are illuminated and the truth of their past, the truth of Arthur's peace and the reasons for the epidemic of forgetfulness are revealed and the nature of the buried giant (its not what you think) is uncovered.
I find it difficult to praise this book too highly. The confrontation scene between Wistan the Saxon and Sir Gawain, in particular, is a classic of modern literature. Readers of The Remains of The Day or Never Let Me Go will recognise the restrained, understated style, occasionally letting small fragments of crucial information slip (you have to pay attention to Ishiguro). But its a better book than either. It really is.
And the closing chapter is devastating.
Forget the talk of this being "fantasy", suspend disbelief, and let yourself slip into a post Arthurian dream. You won't regret it
Like a legend or the journey of a knight, this is a wandering tale. There's battle and heartbreak, legend and myth, hope and deceit. In the beginning, it is somewhat slow-going. In the last portion, it is impossible to ignore, impossible to walk away from, impossible to forget. Truth be told, a bit into this book, I was wondering whether Ishiguro had lost his touch, or done something so apart from past works (and so apart from my usual tastes) that I simply couldn't get foothold enough to be drawn in. Or perhaps I just wasn't in the mood? And then, there was a turn.
Without realizing it, I reached a moment when the characters were more real than friends and loved ones, and when the book felt more real than all the tales of Arthur and his knights which I've heard and read and re-read so often. There reached a point when I couldn't walk away, and now I'm a bit heartbroken for the world and the characters, a bit entranced, and wondering. I'm hating Ishiguro for what he mastered and created, and at the same time believing it to be perfect.
Simply enough, this is a book to wander into, and then fall into. It is one of those rare books which I have to conclude will never leave me behind, though I may never reread it, and which deserves to be read.
The story is set in an early medieval period in England. The Romans are long gone and there are already Saxon settlements scattered around, though the principal characters (Axl and Beatrice) are Britons, living in a labyrinthine warren of caves. Axl and Beatrice are the oldest members of their community and there are frequent early references to the teasing they suffer from the children in their settlement. They also seem to have only intermittent memory. They both have a dim recollection that their son has left their community and set up home elsewhere (they are not sure where). Indeed, the whole of their community seems to have a shared amnesia. Axl can recall a red-haired woman who went among them all a few weeks earlier, offering gnomic advice to all and sundry. His neighbours, however, have no recollection of her at all.
The story recounts Axl's and Beatrice's journey to find their son. I found it very irritating - more than anything else, it seemed to me like a tortuous version of Jack and the Beanstalk, with the two of them trekking though vaguely-described countryside while maintaining a rather demented dialogue. I might leave it a while and try to read this again … on the other hand, I might not!
This is the sixth of Ishiguro's novels that I've read, and my expectations were set very high. My expectations were also just very different from what I got - this is a radical departure from previous books.
Here, Ishiguro plays with elements of Anglo-Saxon history and British culture. 'Beowulf' meets Arthurian legend in a strange, mythic fantasy.
Axl and Beatrice are a devoted elderly couple in a primitive rural community. At first, the reader thinks that their confusion and issues with recalling details are a result of naturally-failing faculties, but soon it becomes clear that it's not just the two old people - the entire land is under some kind of plague of forgetfulness.
The couple keep having a vague feeling that they ought to go see their son, in a neighboring village. Eventually, they motivate themselves to pack up and go, hoping that the way will come to them as they travel.
Along with them goes a bold Saxon warrior. He has lately rescued a local child from being kidnapped by monsters, but rather than showing gratitude for this heroic act, the villagers are suspicious that the child has been infected with some supernatural evil, due to a bite wound on his body. When he leaves, the warrior is asked to take the child with him, and the two join the old couple.
Along the way, they encounter a knight (names might be shared, but not the particulars, with characters from the Round Table), and in addition to Axl and Beatrice's quest to find their son, a quest to find (and, perhaps, slay) a dragon is added.
In a slow, rambling journey, a number of familiar elements are worked in: a holy man in a monastery, malevolent pixies or spirits, the boatman that rows people to a mythic island...
The boatman worked. Very well. The references to Charon and Avalon fit, and the thread weaves effectively throughout the novel, further hints being slowly added until the final scene. That part was done beautifully.
However, too many of the other elements felt... just kinda squished in there. "Well, this is an Important Symbol, so if I add it in and then write about it as if it is Highly Significant, my book will feel Very Meaningful." A lot of the book felt like an allegory... but an allegory of what? It felt Symbolist - but what are the 'truths' to be revealed?
At the end of the book, the conclusion left me with a tear in my eye - but I simultaneously felt frustrated and dissatisfied.
Oh, and if I had to 'hear' Axl call Beatrice 'Princess' one more time, I was gonna reach right through the page to strangle him.
Axl and Beatrice are in love with and devoted to each other. Beatrice addresses Axl as ‘husband’ and he calls her “princess” – I’m afraid to say that I did laugh a bit at this, being put in mind of ‘The Princess Bride’. They never want to be more than a couple of steps apart.
An odd mist lies over the land; it brings forgetfulness, both of recent events and those long past. It lies in patches, so that sometimes Axl and Beatrice can remember things they previously couldn’t. This leads them to wonder: if there were bad things in their past, would they be better off forgetting them? No, they decide. Those events made them who they are today. But while remembering is good for Axl and Beatrice, it isn’t best for everyone. Sometimes it’s best to let the past be shrouded in forgetfulness for the sake of happiness and peace. Axl and Beatrice can forgive- have forgiven- their past errors; that’s a lot harder for large groups of people.
I read this book over about 24 hours; when I would take a break I needed to shake my head to clear the mists out. The story enchanted me, in the same way that Arthurian legend and Tolkien’s word does, despite being told in plain language without the flourishes or old fashioned language of many myths. I loved this book.
Strike that. It's better to say that things are not what you remember them to be. Even without previous exposure to the characters and setting of The Buried Giant, it's impossible not to come in with preconceptions: of what historical Britain of 1500 years ago was like, of how those people lived, of what a dragon does to terrorize a village, of what these sort of stories should do. But the entire point of Ishiguro's novel is that we prescribe meanings and iconographies on to the past (which is, really, the ultimate story) that are not necessarily representative of the truth. We choose what we want to remember, and while that can be comforting, it's ultimately restrictive, too.
The Buried Giant is catching a lot of flak from reviewers because of what it is not (again, what they expected it to be), and I think anyone who is going to appreciate the novel has to accept, right away, that Ishiguro is not dealing in literalism. There's a dragon, yes, but the only literal "buried giant" is mentioned early in the narrative and quickly forgotten. The "buried giant" of the title is, in fact, totally symbolic; you might think of it as "the stuff we sweep under the carpet and try to forget." Again and again, the characters in the novel battle not so much with each other - although there certainly are instances of sudden and brutal violence - but with the idea that they have forgotten important things, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. It has all been obscured by a mist that has descended over the land and seems to sap at people's memories, but the crucial question is whether or not that forgetfulness has actually left them better off. The central couple of Axl and Beatrice, married for so long they no longer remember meeting each other, are forever locked in that debate. Beatrice worries that if they escape the mist, they might remember times of discontent and find their idyllic relationship changed. She begs Axl not to forget how happy they were even without their long-distant memories. Axl agrees, again and again - but it's clear that even in choosing to seek the source of their amnesia, Axl has already changed, and he can't really look back. Every character in the book deals with an internal conflict along these lines, and while the eventual quest that forms provides a goal for most of them, it doesn't necessarily provide solutions.
The other "problem" aspect of the novel, at least for some, is going to be that relatively little actually happens in the sense of events. (And here we're back to the idea of what we expect out of a fantasy narrative.) This is an extremely contemplative book, and most of it revolves not around what people do but about their questions of what to do next. Everyone ends up locked in a sort of verbal pageantry with each other, assuaging each other's fear, respecting their positions, providing them with honor and generally side-stepping the fact that no one is really certain of much of anything. To some readers, I'm sure that feels both repetitive and circular, but to me it felt like a kind of elegy: pretty much everyone in this novel is concerned with letting everyone else down gently. Everyone wants to give everyone else the sense that they don't go alone into the dark.
There are some comparisons being made between The Buried Giant and The Lord of the Rings, and while I see where they're coming from, I think they're wrong-footed. Tolkien is lamenting the loss of an idyllic past and the knowledge that "you can never go back home again." It's obvious that he wants to turn his back on the modern world even as he knows that's not possible. Ishiguro's entire point is that home isn't what you believed it to be in the first place, and the only thing to do, really, is move on with as much grace as you can. Tolkien's perspective supports the concept of the individual, although he basically says that the individual can only do so much; Ishiguro appears to take the long view that all man-made concepts - individualism, civilization, the stories we tell - are illusions and, rightly or wrongly, hold us back. Time keeps on going and the world keeps on turning. Old ways die and new ways rise. That's just how it is.
Do I think this an uplifting read? Well, no, not particularly. However, I found it very engaging and beautifully written. It's also extremely moving at a classically romantic level; it is, essentially, a "goodbye" to romantic pretensions. It's also the kind of novel you can really only get from an experienced and established author. The Buried Giant will leave you solemn, wistful, and maybe even a little unsatisfied - and that's life. If you can give yourself over to Ishiguro, his new novel is a mature and richly rewarding experience.
Along the way they meet a variety of interesting characters: Gawain, the night from the Round Table, Wistan, another knight on some mission, a young man named Edwin who was bitten by something and ousted from his village before he could change into some kind of monster. They progress through the country side encountering increasingly serious dangers. Throughout it all Axl is extremely attentive to his ailing wife and never leaves her side.
The tender relationship between the couples is a constant theme. The source of the mist and whether it should be destroyed poses an interesting question. Would it be better for everyone (Saxons and Britons) continue to exist in relative peace and ignorance or should they have their memories restored and possible resurrect old animosities and bring back war? Is there something in Axl and Beatrice's past that would be better off forgotten or is their love strong enough to survive whatever wrongs they did to each other?
I found the book hard to put down because I wanted answers to these questions.
I recently discovered Ishiguro and am very glad that I did. From the first, I was drawn into the book -- his words just seem to evoke emotion, and one feels transported into the novel. This book is at first narrated by an unknown person, but the story soon progresses into third person and it is not until the very end that the book switches back to first person and we discover who this unknown narrator is. Although I enjoyed this story, throughout most of it and up until the end, I really wondered where it was going - but then again, I do that to some extent with the majority of general fiction novels where there is not necessarily a foregone conclusion as there is in a mystery novel. As with Never Let Me Go and I suspect other Ishiguro novels, things are hinted at but not necessarily spelled out and there is an overall bittersweet tone. But don't get me wrong, this book is nothing like Never Let Me Go, and the things that are hinted at in The Buried Giant are not really so much of a surprise after all.
I perhaps didn't like this quite as much as Never Let Me Go, but in my opinion, it is still a very good read and I am looking forward to catching up on the other Ishiguro novels I have missed.
As always, Ishiguro surprises us as he moves from genre to genre with no regard for his reader's expectations. Whenever he writes a back I think "Oh, I like him, I'll read that" but then after I read one of his books, I am initially disappointed because it was so unlike his last, but on reflection I find that I loved the current title for entirely different reasons.
So it was with The Buried Giant. The tone and feeling of the story, at the very beginning, are unfamiliar and unusual. I kept waiting to understand what was happening and why, but indeed it continues to the end.
Kazuo weaves a tale of Arthurian legend, with dragons, ogres, strange mists, knights, quests, and prophecies. He takes these mythical elements and crafts a story of a couple, Beatrice and Axl, on a journey to find their son, who they have almost completely forgotten about, due to a strange mist which robs the land's inhabitants of their memories.
Ishiguro introduces the idea that myths were borne of a need to not only understand the natural world and our place within it, but also as a way of dealing with the atrocities of war and the pain of death.
Allegory, myth, reality - they also co-habit in this novel which questions our sense of time and place and ultimately leaves us haunted and sad both specifically, for Beatrice and Axl, and generally, for the longing to know the truth about the history of the land in which it is set.
What was Ishiguro doing? Obviously, this tells the story of an old man and his wife traveling (walking) to where their son is (anxiously awaiting them, they are sure) in post-King-Arthur England. Most reviews call this a fantasy, probably because of the dragon and sprites in the story. Actually, though, as James Wood says in THE NEW YORKER, this story is an allegory.
Here's what I think Ishiguro was doing. I think he was experimenting. I also think this experimentation failed.
Some readers may give THE BURIED GIANT a high rating.I think that's because it is so difficult to be negative about Ishiguro. He's a brilliant author, so if I dislike his book, the fault must be mine, they think. Right?
But, honestly, most adults will be bored and may not want to finish THE BURIED GIANT unless, like me, they can hardly believe they dislike an Ishiguro book.
This is a difficult book to review as there is so much that is left unsaid, and it is possible that everyone who makes it to the end of the book will have a different interpretation. Ever the master of subtlety, Kazuo Ishiguro makes the reader work hard to unravel the numerous threads that are woven into a narrative that can be likened, in both content and style, to one of the legends of old. Challenging, haunting, thought-provoking and surprising, the novel explores themes such as love, marriage, memory, revenge and mortality, and after turning the last page I went straight back to the beginning of the book, re-reading certain passages in the light of what I had just learnt. It's not exactly a page-turner, and the stilted prose will surely put off many readers, but the hints of some revelations yet to come sustained the interest, even if the whole was rather wordy and certain events puzzling as to their relevance. On finishing the book, the reward wasn't immediate, but I feel will increase on subsequent readings when subtleties of tone and plot will become clearer.
I'm a well-established Ishiguro fan and his newest novel did not disappoint. While this novel forays into territory that could easily be labelled fantasy, the narrative at the heart of the novel remains close to where he shines best: exploring the bonds between individuals and the effect relationships have on the characters of individuals. Axl and Beatrice are immediately sympathetic and as the group of core characters expand, the reader is quickly drawn in to each of their stories. With the quiet and understated prose one expects from Ishiguro, this book plays with narrative perspective in ways that I found fascinating. A great read for those new to Ishiguro as well as those readers who have already fallen in love with his writing.