The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

A lot has been said about Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, not least as it’s his first novel in ten years.  That has made it a hotly-anticipated book, though some have clearly been alarmed by his use of more fantastical tropes to tell this story.

I have a bit of a mixed relationship with Ishiguro’s work.  I loved The Remains Of The Day, which I found to be a subtle and masterful examination of repressed desire.  Its chief accomplishment was being able to communicate so much nuance through a very limited first person perspective.  But I was less enthused by Never Let Me Go.  I found it overly sentimental, and lacking in emotional impact.

The Buried Giant is another miss for me, saved only by an ending that resolves some of the frustrations I had while reading it.  The story follows an elderly British couple – Axl and Beatrice – as they travel through 6th century Britain on a journey to see their son.  The land is one that is cursed with forgetfulness, which it transpires is the consequence of the breath of a dragon who lives in the area.  Along the way the couple meet and share parts of their journey with a Saxon warrior, a young Saxon boy and King Arthur’s now aged knight Gawain.

The buried giant of the novel’s title is the heavily-freighted history of conflict that runs through the land.  That conflict runs between Briton and Saxon, between people of the same village, and even between the couple that form the core of the story.  But as a consequence of the dragon’s breath, that history becomes forgotten and suppressed.  While that has enabled peace to been maintained for many years, and has enabled Axl and Beatrice to mend their relationship after a significant betrayal, that comes at the price of forgetting friends, family and the details of their lives.  The Dark Ages in which the novel is set, becomes about forgetting, rather than the absence of scholarship.

Although the novel contains some beautiful prose, I found the characters difficult to connect with.  Although the ending resolved the story and explained much, it felt a little contrived and the transition from the earlier, muddled parts of the novel to the clarity of the denouement was too sudden for me.  It’s an interesting book, with some interesting ideas, but it doesn’t quite work for me.

Goodreads rating: 3*

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