I first read this back in August of 2015 and although I enjoyed it to a certain extent, it was basically disappointing because I thought it didn’t live up to Ishiguro’s prior works. It seemed way more whimsical and fantastical and perhaps more “message” driven. My original review is here: https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/2015-2/0715-2/the-buried-giant/ and I gave it only a 6 – I enjoyed parts of it. This time I rated it a lot higher for several reasons including that I probably got some stuff wrong last time. (My own memory isn’t quite what it used to be.)
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
2015 / 318 pages (Kindle)
read by David Horovitch 11h 48m
rating – 8.75 – A / literary fantasy
Ishiguro is always doing new things and I’ve followed him for 6 of his 8 novels. They’re a diverse bunch ranging from historical fiction to sci-fi and fantasy but always very literary and always with the same type of theme – memory and/or denial – possibly unreliable characters but not necessarily –
Theme: So there’s something very familiar about the theme of memory, but Ishiguro always handles it a bit differently. With The Buried Giant the theme is “not remembering” and it’s a communal issue as well as individual one on the part of Ishiguro’s protagonists. That’s kind of the truth of all his books – it’s just more direct in The Buried Giant. And I suppose that’s part of the reason it’s a rather difficult read. “Memory is a precious thing,” says one of the characters in the book. – How do you write a story where the characters have limited memory? – it gets repetitive in places, it gets melancholy with a yearning for something not remembered. This was a flaw the first time, but it was often a plus on the second reading.
Setting: Intriguing to the max and well done. Back in the last couple decades of the 5h century after the Romans had left England to its own devices in fighting off the Saxons and others. And even though the Britons had King Arthur (Ambrosius Aurelianus? – a 5th century hero), the Saxons eventually won the day and settled down amongst the Britons. The book takes place at some point during this time. (although the term viking is used at one point and they weren’t anywhere around until maybe the 8th century.)
Ah well – I could go on but I’m blabbing and it’s fiction – lapse of memory –
Plot: Something they call a “mist” has covered the memory of the folks in northern area of England where Axl lives in a warren with his wife Beatrice in a small community in northeastern Briton.
The pair decide they should visit their son who lives some ways away – they don’t remember exactly where or why he left and they’re not sure where he lives. After a community dispute about their candle, the pair sets off.
En route they have a number of adventures including one with an old woman and a boatman at a river – apparently the river of death. The woman had wanted to cross with her husband but that’s not allowed except in really very special cases – the love and attachment has to be strong enough.
The couple, devoted to each other, stays at a Saxon village Beatrice knows of and there they meet a warrior named Wistan who has taken a young boy under his care. The boy, Edwin, has an animal bite which seriously scares the villagers – also his mother is missing. Beatrice is in pain and the villagers tell her about a monk named Jonas who lives at a nearby monastery so the 4-some decides to go pay a visit.
As a little group they travel and come across some Saxon soldiers, but Sir Gawain from King Arthur’s old knights appears and helps them.
Now there are 5 – Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, Edwin and Gawain. The group arrives at the monastery, but then they split up with Axl and Beatrice going one way and Wistan and Edwin another, while Gawain and his horse Horace mind their own problems until they meets up with the others.
The ultimate quest is to destroy the great she-dragon, Querig (whose name comes from question and query and quest and a binding of the Q to the U.) The dragon is the cause of missing memory. (And I won’t go further than that.)
I wanted to love it – nope – didn’t happen. The trek through the middle ages has been done before and it’s been done better. I did like it a lot though.