Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (2015)

Another novel belonging, if not wholly, to the Arthurian subgenre of fantasy. When published, it created a lot of noise – not only for its qualities, but the very fact that Ishiguro, respected literary fiction author, crossed borders of genre fiction and wrote a fantasy novel. The discussion that followed already inspired one post here, I liked what Ishiguro had to say about fantasy and his genuine interest in our world, so I decided to read his book.

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It definitely is a novel – a story of 345 pages, and fantasy – with echoes of King Arthur, ogres, pixies and dragon, many basic tropes of modern fantasy. One can play a game and try to catch all the Easter Eggs.

Plot is simple enough, at least in the beginning. A simple, old couple, Britons, Axl and Beatrice (!), journey to reunite with their long lost son. Their memories, and the memories of all the people in the land, are clouded by mysterious mist, collective amnesia covering, as we learn, terrible deeds done to stop the Saxon invasion on the orders of the late King Arthur. Along the way Axl and Beatrice meet a Saxon warrior, young Saxon boy, Sir Gawain – last of the knights of Arthur, and they learn of the reasons behind the mist.

It’s also about old people’s love, not a very popular topic, and it reminded me of “Robin and Marian”, one of my favourite Robin Hood movies.

So we have a book about individual and collective memory, sins committed out of love for one country, loyalty beyond grave. It’s restrained, because all the epicness already happened and now our protagonists deal with the aftermath. King Arthur, through his legendary struggles, wanted to create lasting peace for his people, whatever the cost. “The Buried Giant” is about that cost.

Foolishness, sir. How can old wounds heal while maggots linger so richly? Or a peace hold for ever built on slaughter and a magician’s trickery?”

Machiavelli, writing his “Prince”, was a naïve idealists. Prince does unimaginable things, but he unites Italy and guards it against foes internal and external. What if, after the heavy price was paid, we still loose? And the buried bodies, skeletons of past slaughters, are revealed to fuel the next circle of violence?

When the memory is restored, nations fall, but will at least personal relationships prevail? Will anything be saved?

In the context of fantasy I see “The Buried Giant” mainly as a story about the futility of heroes. In many stories we have legendary kings and powerful magicians trying to fight against the tides of history. Even if novels are concluded with happy ends, will the peace survive? Or will the river of history return to it’s bed, over an even bigger pile of bones?

When it was too late for rescue, it was still early enough for revenge.”

Revenge is coming, the world will fall apart, the lovers… not to spoil too much, but the ending is bitter, and the mist was replaced by heavy clouds on the horizon.

I see Ishiguro’s novel as a big question mark and a challenge to epic fantasy.

And I’d love to read a prequel, Ishiguro’s direct remake of Arthur’s tale. Unlikely to be written 😦

The novel is slow paced, but don’t get discouraged by the first chapters – things will start to happen. There will be betrayal, vengeance, fights, quarrels, big reveals. Small scale, but at times intensive. Beautifully melancholic.

Score: 8,5/10

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5 thoughts on “Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (2015)

  1. Ooh, I’d definitely like to read this one! Setting apart the uproar, or maybe just vigorous publicity, that came with this book, its content simply seems very interesting. I’m partial to the mythos of King Arthur and the knights of Round Table, both in literary/esthethic and sociological aspect of these tales. And I do wonder how a writer with a different background looks at the whole interplay between modern fantasy and old legends. Let’s not forget that Zelazny started as a poet – only, by writing poems, he couldn’t make ends meet. Come to think of it, it was very fortunate for all of us 😀

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  3. I’ve finished reading “The Buried Giant” and I want to add a few thoughts to what Piotrek wrote above.
    1) It’s not fantasy. Not really. It’s a very complicated, multi-layered metaphor. I know, with this sentence I’m opening a can full of worms, but still – I think there’s a difference 😉
    2) I was thoroughly charmed by this book. The absolutely static fight, which should have been anticlimactic but wasn’t, reminded me of Eastern traditions – mainly ancient Japanese and Chinese duels.
    3) The ending broke my heart. I didn’t think it was bitter – sad, yes. Melancholy – that too. There was a tiny bit of tranquility which led to understanding. Not acceptance, mind you, but sort of ultimate comprehension.
    4) I didn’t like the way Arthur was portrayed. I understand why, but I still don’t agree with it. And that’s the only reason for subtracting any points from my score 😉
    Score: 9,5/10

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