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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Reviewed by Joshua Redlich)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including the international bestsellers The Remains of the Day (winner of the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go. He received an OBE for service to literature and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

OVERVIEW: King Arthur has been dead some years, and a mysterious mist of forgetfulness covers Britain, shielding the Saxons and Britons who live together peacefully from their memories. Axl and Beatrice, two elderly Britons, realize the existence of this mist as their dear son whom they have not seen in years becomes more and more difficult for them to recall.

Determined to see him again, they decide to set out on the journey they’ve so often discussed taking and visit their son in his village a few days walk from their own. They know their trip to hold many dangers—some strange and otherworldly, others the result of their age and physical aptitude—but none of their planning has prepared them for the Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and the mysterious knight who join their company, turning their path away from their son and toward restoring their memories and ridding Britain of the cursed mist that plagues it, a mist brought on by the terrible dragon Querig.

FORMAT INFO: The Buried Giant, a literary fantasy, is Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade. Divided into four parts, the 317 page book is told in the voice of a first person omniscient narrator who remains outside of the story until the final chapter.

The Buried Giant was published on March 3, 2015 by Knopf, an imprint of Random House, and it is available as a hardcover, large print paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

ANALYSIS: Readers of fantasy tend to enjoy the genre because they value story and plot above other aspects of a book, while fans of literary fiction, I would imagine, are more concerned with the author’s actual ability to put words on paper, focusing instead on the themes they write about and the way they present them. So when I discovered The Buried Giant, a fantasy written by an author of literary fiction, I was more than intrigued. I thought, here is going to be a book with all of the magic and mystery of a good fantasy and all the craft of a master writer, which there is no doubt that Kazuo Ishiguro is. While I can’t speak for fans of literary fiction, as I am not one myself, I admit that I found the book disappointing.

That isn’t to say there aren’t parts of the story I found enjoyable. The use of an elderly couple as the main protagonists is something I have never seen before in fantasy, and it is a refreshing change. Additionally, the setting, an ancient, post-King Arthur Britain where trolls and dragons and magic are not just superstitions, is beautifully rendered and highly believable. And the theme of the story, the power and importance of memory, is beautifully fleshed out.

The mist of forgetfulness perfectly evokes the foggy feeling one feels in their own head when trying to remember something they cannot, and the ultimate question that plagues the characters throughout the story is one that is interesting to contemplate: is it better to retain all of your life’s memories or to forget some good ones in order to keep the bad ones at bay.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else I cared for. The story itself moves at a glacial pace that even the two elderly protagonists would find slow, and all the while nothing happens. The book is just one encounter after another with a handful of characters who are only mildly interesting. There is hardly any action at all, and in the few instances where there could be, it is brief. Even the final showdown with the dragon, which one would expect to be exciting, is uneventful and boring.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was extraordinarily predictable. Just by reading the synopsis of the book, which tells of a mist of forgetfulness and a couple who want to visit the son they are already starting to forget, one could successfully figure out the outcome of the couple’s journey. As the story continues and certain characters cross Axl and Beatrice’s path, more accurate predictions are easily made. The only twist at all is not so much the occurrence of something unexpected as the sudden realization that a well-liked character might not actually be deserving of such fond affection, while another who comes off as untrustworthy and slightly irritating might be. That change is probably the most enjoyable part of the entire story, as it’s the only time when it feels like something is actually happening.

Yet despite being slow, boring, and unsurprising, the most unbearable part of the book is the repetition. Every single character, though particularly the knight, repeats themselves constantly, to the point where two could be conversing and both are just repeating a single thought that doesn’t even relate to what the other is saying, as if they are just speaking to themselves. Unfortunately, conversations like these occur far too often.

CONCLUSION: Ultimately, I would not recommend The Buried Giant to readers of fantasy who seek suspense and plot development in the books they choose to read, and I caution readers of literary fantasy to approach at their own risk.


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