Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Knopf Canada (Random House Canada)
Age Group: General Fiction
Source: Received finished copy from publisher for review consideration
The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.
The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards—some strange and other-worldly—but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.
Tell Me More: You never remember things the same way twice. One day, you might focus on a single detail, your emotional investment tied directly to the existence of that detail on that particular day–a red scarf, a white drink, a brush of fingers against your arm. Another day might find you recalling the feeling of contentment or overwhelming anger or despair mixed with a strange taste of relief. Memories shift and grow as humans do, and it is the indelible impact those shifts have on us that Kazuo Ishiguro considers in his newest book.
Let me be clear: this is not a book you read for straightforward answers. The Buried Giant meanders much like its protagonists, and it doesn’t really wait for you to catch up. You’re either on the journey with Axl and Beatrice or you’re not. Should you commit to that journey, it might take more than the first few chapters for you to really find your bearings, as Ishiguro lays out the path in slow, sweeping paragraphs. The setting is both familiar and strange, reminiscent of Tolkein’s descriptions of the Shire but with a touch of fog, similar to the mental fog that seems to dog Axl, Beatrice, and their fellow villagers. The writing style that Ishiguro employs can make it difficult to remember exactly what is happening and what has happened as you move through each chapter. While this style might be fitting for the story, when it comes to enjoying it, your mileage may still vary.
Ishiguro uses several fantasy tropes to highlight themes in Axl and Beatrice’s journey, not the least of which is an appearance by a legendary knight of King Arthur’s court. It doesn’t feel like Ishiguro ever truly commits to these tropes, however, and while I could see what he was trying to accomplish on a technical level, it wasn’t emotionally compelling to me. The Buried Giant seems to want to rest within a peculiar middle ground between fantasy and realism, but isn’t quite magic realism either. Axl and Beatrice are the nucleus of the story, and the various magical creatures eventually felt like small distractions.
Were the distractions worth it? Again, your mileage may vary. Never Let Me Go, another Ishiguro novel, only ever gave vague hints as to the true nature of its protagonists’ school and their secret, and I found it more effective than if he had stated it clearly from the beginning. The Buried Giant, on the other hand, fills its pages with new shiny things to look at, and it was hard not to feel impatient after getting to the halfway point of the book.
The Final Say: The Buried Giant may be best consumed without expectation or knowledge of Ishiguro’s previous work. Fantasy fans will likely enjoy the throwbacks to the genre, though Ishiguro doesn’t quite commit to those tropes wholeheartedly.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist of Japanese origin. His family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor’s degree from University of Kent in 1978 and his Master’s from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing course in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982. He now lives in London.
His first novel, A Pale View of Hills won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World won the 1986 Whitbread Prize. Ishiguro received the 1989 Man Booker prize for his third novel The Remains of the Day. His fouth novel, The Unconsoled won the 1995 Cheltenham Prize.