Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant

In a review, Neil Gaiman calls this novel one "that's easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love."   That 's a strange comment, but one that I have to agree with.

The Buried Giant is a mix of legend, myth, fantasy, and some history.  It is set in medieval England shortly after the death of King Arthur.  One of the main secondary characters is the aged Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, who has a very dubious mission to fulfill.  Along the way, we encounter some enigmatic boatmen. And, here there bee dragons, also --well, only one dragon, Querig, who is also a bit beyond her prime years, and an ogre or two or three and apparently hundreds of pixies..  Oh yes, and several Saxons decide two elderly Britons might need protection on the road.

At this time, there has been a hiatus in the civil war between the native Britons and the invading Saxons, who seemingly have come to say, even though Arthur, who had managed to keep the peace, has gone on to the Westerly Isles.  However, a strange plague, the mist, has struck the British Isles--resulting in forgetfulness.  Peoples' memories are failing, both for recent and past events.  Only occasionally do some past memories emerge.  Moreover, not all are afflicted to the same degree and the degree of forgetfulness seems to fluctuate.  For example, Axl's memory seems to be improve as he proceeds on his quest.

Ishiguro has created a quest novel, one containing several quests actually.  One is that of the elderly couple, Alx and Beatrice, who set off on a search for their son.  They no longer remember why he left, but they do believe that they will be able to find him and that he will welcome them.  As it happens on all good quests, others join the elderly Britons--Wistan, a Saxon warrior, on a mission for his king; Edwin, a Saxon youth who has been injured; and Sir Gawain, who decides to aid the Britons and also to keep an eye on Wistan, whom he suspects is on a mission that may be opposed to his own mission, given him long ago by King Arthur.

Some of the episodes bring up echoes of other works.  One incident involving Wistan seems reminiscent of the Epic of Beowulf, while a second also involving Wistan, along with Edwin and a goat, seems Biblical in tone, specifically that of Abraham and Isaac.  But, again, I've often been accused of over-reading, so I'll leave it up to you to decide, if you read it.

If there is a downside, for me it would be Ishiguro's precise measured prose and the dialogue.  I had read his Remains of the Day and thought that style fit in perfectly with the setting of the novel--a mansion set in rural England, complete with numerous servants and landed gentry.  However, I felt it didn't fit in medieval rural England, most of whose inhabitants were peasants and country folk, and most of whom were illiterate.  However, the problem, to me anyway, was not distracting enough to cause me to stop reading and enjoying the novel.

Overall, I consider The Buried Giant a very interesting book with an unusual theme, well worth reading and thinking about.  I also plan on reading other works by Kazuo Ishiguro. 


  1. I skimmed to avoid any plot spoilers but find myself intrigued enough to look for a Kindle copy via my library. So I withhold judgment and response until I can find and read the book. BTW, I liked his earlier book, Never Let Me Go. Very strange, beautiful, and unsettling.

    1. R.T.,

      I also liked an earlier book of his, The Remains of the Day. _Never Let Me Go_ is on my hold list at the library.

  2. i guess i've gotten picky in my old age... several months ago i started "Giant" and was initially interested until the travelers got to the monastery, then the book just seemed to fade away... i think it had something to do with presence of some lurking evil that threw me off; i like what you said about Ishiguro's style... maybe i'll try Remains... tx for the informative post...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Yes, the monastery incident was a problem, but the book got back on track after they left and got back together. Something that happened there (or actually something that didn't happen) is significant.

      He's a strange writer,sometimes perplexing, but he intrigues me, and I'll read more by him in the future.

  3. Great commentary on this book.

    I have not read Ishiguro but I would like to.

    This sounds interesting for several reasons. I generally like quest stories.

    This sounds appealing for several reasons.

    As for over reading, I think that is something that I am often guilty of :)

    1. Brian Joseph,

      He's probably my "Find" for 2016. I've read two of his novels so far, and a third is on my hold list at the library. This is probably the most unusual quest story I've ever read. An important part of the quest is unveiling the past, which has been obscured by the mist that weakens their memories.

  4. I used to teach a course in which Ishiguro's first novel, A Pale View of Hills, was a selection.

    There's something to be said for starting Ishiguro by reading in publication order (so next would be An Artist of the Floating World, then The Remains of the Day). But I confess that, with the exception of Never let Me Go, I haven't read his later novels.

    1. Wurmbrand,

      I've been bouncing around his publication order. _The Buried Giant_ is the second work I've read by him, mainly because it was the selection of an SF discussion group. I had already read his _The Remains of the Day_ but only after seeing the film.

      I shall probably read more by him, and most likely start with his first one which, I gather, is _A Pale View of Hills_.