No, just kidding. Sort of.
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Honestly, I subtracted almost a whole star just because Axl kept calling his wife “princess” every other sentence. (That’s not an exaggeration. Every other sentence. Sometimes EVERY sentence.)
For context, you should know that I’ve read three previous Ishiguro novels: The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and We Were Orphans. I disliked We Were Orphans pretty strongly, and liked Never Let Me Go (probably not as much as I would have if I hadn’t been spoiled for it, and I’d probably like it better on re-read). But Remains of the Day is one of my favorite books of all time. Like, if I had a top ten list of books that represent me and my inner life, this would be on it. So yeah, I had hopeful expectations for this book, but I also knew that sometimes Ishiguro and I just aren’t on the same wavelength. This is one of those times.
The Buried Giant is very deliberately constructed, and as piece of literature I do think it has value. I enjoy thinking about it on an intellectual level, but due to stylistic choices Ishiguro made, I did not connect with it the way I have with his writing before.
The story takes place in post-Arthurian Britain at a time when the Saxons and Britons were living in tenuous peace with one another. Our heroes are Axl and Beatrice, an elderly married couple who set out one day from their village to seek out their long lost son, whom they barely remember. This is when we learn that the whole country is suffering from a sort of collective amnesia caused by what Axl and Beatrice call ‘the mist.’ Along the way to their son’s village, they join up with a Saxon knight and a young Saxon boy, as well as an ancient Arthurian knight who has a sacred mission entrusted to him by King Arthur himself. Soon Axl and Beatrice’s journey becomes entangled with that of their companions, and soon they realize they must help to slay a dragon in order to end the curse of the mist and retrieve their memories, not just of their son, but of their entire long lives together, although they recognize that with the good memories the bad will return as well.
What follows is a novel that is part allegory (although I hesitate to actually call it that, as with allegory there are only ever direct correlations between ideas, and here they’re more general), part fable, part meditation on memory, violence and revenge. There were individual sections of this book where I found the writing beautiful, and parts where the plights of the characters genuinely moved me, and as discussed previously, I found the whole intellectually interesting. However, I’m not sure Ishiguro’s sparse and deceptively simple style, which worked so well in his previous novels as a way to conceal truths barely hidden under the surface in a more realistic world, worked as well here. Fantasy can be used successfully towards the same function, so the fact that he had the fantasy itself softening his message on top of that seemingly simplistic style meant I had to really work to be engaged while reading. It was almost a soporific effect on me, although I read the book very quickly. It’s more like it put my emotions to sleep and not my brain, and my emotions are my favorite part of reading.
If you like Ishiguro and/or genre fiction, regardless of whether or not you read this book, you should totally check out the interview Kazuo Ishiguro gave to the podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. They talk a lot about how fantasy is perceived by the traditional literary community, an argument which Ishiguro unknowingly stepped in when he decided to write a story using fantasy elements and structures. It’s a really interesting conversation, but the best part is when he turns the conversation on the interviewer and starts to go all fantasy noob. For the entire last thirty minutes of the interview, Ishiguro asks the guy all these questions about what fantasy books he should read, whether Neil Gaiman is cool, who is the typical age group for fantasy, what adult fantasy can do. I was laughing at him while listening because it was just sort of surreal to see this author whose books I’ve loved initiating himself into this genre I love, but it was sweet. I like the guy.