I have never read a Kazuo Ishiguro novel before. I know his books are deep, thoughtful tomes on the human condition. I also know that to get what he’s trying to say, sometimes it requires a reader to restart from the beginning because he chooses to hide meaning and action under a cloud of beautiful prose. My decision to read this book, however, came about mostly because of its theme, the elements of fantasy I've been reading for three decades.
But while The Buried Giant is extraordinarily well written, it can be boring as well. Even as well read as I think I am, I can't help wonder if I missed some hushed imagery within the book. The story unfolds in a rather straightforward way, at times the characters seem emotionally detached from each other, despite the fact that the two main characters, Axl and Beatrice do love each other unconditionally. Is the author aiming this book –along with his other six- at group of smarter people who can comprehend some deeper meaning from the story?
“The Buried Giant is set after the end of a war between Saxons and Britons; they now live alongside each other, but warily. A widespread historical amnesia grips the populace, erasing both recent and distant memory. Axl and Beatrice, two elderly married Britons, call this forgetting “the mist.” Even memories only a month or two old fade away. Axl and Beatrice once had a son, who disappeared, but neither can quite remember him, or why he left them. They embark on a journey to visit him, a quest that occupies the rest of the novel. In the course of the journey, they encounter two knights: Wistan, a young Saxon warrior, and Sir Gawain, an elderly and slightly buffoonish nephew of King Arthur. There are adventures and battles with ogres, pixies, dragons, and menacing soldiers. There are some sinister monks. Along the way, Beatrice and Axl discover that “the mist” is actually the breath of a tyrannical she-dragon named Querig, and that the only way to restore the country’s stolen memory will be to kill Querig.”
The exploration of this memory loss over the land and especially with Axl and Beatrice becomes repetitive and annoying after a while, along with Axl calling Beatrice “princess” again and again. It was as if the author’s story was already too short of an idea, so he filled out the book with repeated notions that both were off to see this son (whom ultimately becomes the MacGuffin) that went away for some reason, that they both could not remember their arguments (or why they could not have a candle), and that Beatrice had some sort of limp, but it was no bother.
The book starts out well, and along the way the reader think this is a sly Arthurian themed tome, but the book quickly becomes sluggish and too repetitive to really enjoy and recommend. It’s not fantasy, though it contains fantasy elements, and readers of his previous six novels might be turned off by the idea that it could be a fantasy.
I appreciate authors whom can do something different in their writing, though. And while the author likes fantasy novels, when writer Ursula Le Guin wondered if his long-time readers appreciate this adventure, he said “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”
That answer lies with them.