Date finished: February 2nd 2016
The first book from the Man-Booker Award winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro, in ten years has proved a divisive one among critics, fans and new-readers alike. I fall into the third category, and therefore this review approaches the book from a relatively objective position as I’m unable to compare it with his previous works.
A mist of forgetfulness has set in on Britain in the days after Arthur’s reign and folk are often unable to recall the events of their own lives in this brutal land where ogres and dragons roam with impunity. Within this strange dark age, elderly couple Axl and Beatrice must undertake an important journey: they must leave the safety of their village to go and see their son who, thanks to the impenetrable mist, they no longer remember. On their way, they meet many other travelers, some who seek to end the influence of this mist of forgetfulness, who jog their memories at times, revealing worrying thoughts. As their journey progresses, Axl and Beatrice begin to wonder, are some things best left forgotten?
With Arthurian knights, dragons, pixies and many other strange phenomena, The Buried Giant sounds like a work of high fantasy. But make no mistake, this is a powerful work of literature steeped in multiple layers of allegory and metaphor with some very deep themes at its core.
The collective amnesia that Ishiguro skilfully weaves into the story creates a palpable tension, leading the reader to question the lucidity of all characters and their motives. Are the characters sure of why they do what they do? Uncertainty underlies the actions and reasoning of all characters, and often things are revealed to be not all they seem.
The Buried Giant is a great book for both patient fantasy fans, and contemporary literature fans alike. In some ways it feels like a Miyazaki film: full of deep themes against a rich backdrop of myth and legend. But at the same time, it’s a slow-burner that proves repetitive at times, the dialogue often formal and stilted, the action sparing and anti-climactic. This seems to be Ishiguro’s intention. The repetition is over a simple but important theme, the action is a trivial detail within the story, and the dialogue strives to be so transparent as for its significance to become lost until the final heartbreaking revelation lends a sudden weight to everything that came before it. The end chapter carries an incredible emotional payload that lingers long after the book is finished.
It seems that The Buried Giant works for some and not others, but it’s certainly well-worth an attempt. If one can take its restraint as a virtue rather than a failing, then a rewarding and ultimately devastating meditation on love, memory and reality lays ahead for the reader.