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This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro and I am mighty impressed.  The actual storyline of the book is good, but the subtle meanings are even better.

 

On the surface, this is the story of Axl and Beatrice, elderly Britons, trying to visit their grown son.  But they, like everyone else in this land, have lost their memories and only have the vaguest recollection of their son and even their personal stories, including their shared history.  So off they go on this very unclear quest and on their way, they meet up with a young boy (a Saxon), a soldier (also a Saxon), and Sir Gawain himself (a Briton).  In the end, they do not find their son, but their memories are beginning to return and then Beatrice goes on a journey by herself to the island where the son lives.  It turns out,

that in order to stop the near-constant carnage of the fighting between the Britons and the Saxons, Arthur decided to massacre of a large village of Saxon non-combatants, and then entered into a deal with the local dragon that it exude a mist that causes people to lose their memories, allowing the Britons and the Saxons to live peacefully together.  They know they are different, but they don't hate each other.  Sir Gawain has been left to guard the dragon and keep the memories vague.  The 2 Saxon characters are immune to the mist and so they remember and want revenge.  Finally, this journey was at least in part Beatrice's journey to death.

 

 

So, this book gracefully examines issues like how to deal with populations that live together, but have hated each other for generations; what is justified by war; the cleansing of the reputation of national heroes (a type of memory manipulation); the importance of memory to the human experience; and the deliverance of death.   By the time I got to the end of the book, I couldn't believe how many thorny issues had been explored by this little fable and never once did I think I had been lectured to.  In fact, what was interesting was how I couldn't decide the best answer to each issue.  Is it preferable to lose your memory and live peacefully or retain your memory only to embrace hatred?  Is the sacrifice of a innocents ever justified in order to end a war and does your answer change if the innocents belong to the group that "started it" (made me think about the discussion of the atom bombs used in WWII, but really, it's true of all wars).  Should we abandon the whole concept of national heroes, even when very flawed people have done very heroic things?  And is death a journey to be embraced or fought?  

 

The more I've thought about this book, the more I've liked and admired it.  Has anyone else read it? If not, please do and respond as quickly as possible.

 

 

 

 

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There was some controversy over this book with many serious reviewers accusing the author of moving into the dreaded realm of fantasy.

Been on my tbr list since release, just waiting for the price to come down.

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Well, it is fantasy, although possibly closer to a fable because there are hidden lessons all over the place.  Silly objection on their part.

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  • 5 weeks later...
I feel a sense of relief finishing this tedious book.

Kazuo Ishiguro can write. The Remains of the Day is a study of very human, well rounded characters deisplaying enormous pathos. Never Let Me Go told a long allegory in pitch perfect tones, building a connection between the reader and the characters.

So what went wrong with The Buried Giant? It starts well - an omniscient narrator bridging the gap between the reader and characters in ancient Saxon Britain. The main characters, Axl and Beatrice, converse in a chatty way; details of their way of life are gently drip-fed. Axl realises that people are getting forgetful; events of only a few weeks ago seem to be forgotten.

Then, the novel just starts to disintegrate into a bad pastiche of other writers and other genres.

Axl and Beatrice, for example, start to sound like the characters in Raymond Briggs's When The Wind Blows. Everything Axl says ends in "princess", and Beatrice hangs on his every word, even though he has little idea of what he is saying.

Then, Axl and Beatrice decide to set off on a journey to find their son. They think he has gone to a nearby village; they can't remember why they want to find him but following some altercation over a candle, they think the time is right to leave their Hobbit-like warren. We then find ourselves in the land of Monty Python and the Holy Grail as they head off across the countryside having a procession of encounters with Arthurian knights, crazy ferrymen, soldiers guarding a bridge, some creepy monks, and the list goes on. Some of these chaps then decide to tag along with Axl and Beatrice.

The way these characters seem to have no real lives; no means of support; no purpose other than to wait in the clearing to be found by our plucky adventurers is reminiscent of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks of Steve Jackson and Gary Gygax. At one point, in tunnels underneath a monastry (that is also some kind of doom machine whose mechanism is not very clearly explained), you can almost hear Kazuo Ishiguro rolling his twelve sided dice to determine what monster will be lurking behind each door.

Oh, and it's in this monastry/doom machine that we discover that nobody is quite who they say they are.

Then, after some mountains (where did they come from, the land was featureless and flat the day before), some ogres and a dragon later, it all kind of wraps up. They all get their memories back and remember that they have grievances and sorrows.

All this sounds quite frenetic, but the overwhelming sense is ennui. None of the characters has any depth; they just stand around talking to each other in long and repetitive speeches. There is a formula, repeated every thirty pages, of our travellers walking for a bit, discovering they are in great peril, and then escaping using strategically placed tools.

The ending adds some enigma to what was really just a terrible, derivative mishmash. There is a Question (with a capital Q) flagged up at the end in neon lights - would we be better off without our memories (i.e. should secrets remain buried?). And then the answer is set out in full - just in case readers can't work it out for themselves - that we are better off with memories even if some of them are unhappy ones.

Nevertheless, reading The Buried Giant is a memory I have no wish to retain.
 
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