(Gushing and rather nerdy review ahead)
The release of Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel, The Buried Giant, has been the subject a lot of attention this week. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on his previous six novels, so I was equal parts excited and apprehensive about this new novel, his first in ten years.
I don’t really want to say that The Buried Giant is a departure from Ishiguro’s previous works, because it contains much that is reminiscent of other novels. The Buried Giant has a weird dreamlike logic, like The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans; it is set in an alternate England, like Never Let Me Go; it is also concerned with memory, like all of his novels. But a novel set in a post-Roman England with dragons and ogres is different, as many have already noted. But the biggest departure, I feel, is that the novel has two protagonists; an old married couple called Axl and Beatrice.
Ishiguro has said that this is a novel about long-term love. Axl and Beatrice believe that they have to go on a quest to find their son. The two ‘elders’ walk through contentious war zones, leaving their comfortable warren-like village behind. They find that they forget too much; they forget things about their son, as well as things that happened last week. They discover that this forgetfulness is affecting lots of people, not just older people, and they are told it is a result of ‘the mist’ from a dragon’s breath. They meet a knight and a young boy, rejected from his village because he had apparently been bitten by an ogre. Along the way, the four meet Sir Gawain and his horse, Horace. Axl and Beatrice become involved in the quest to kill the dragon.
This book haunted me as I was reading it. And I think it still does. As Ishiguro’s subtle but heartfelt prose has caused me to do before, I bawled my eyes out at the end. He has a way with words that just breaks my heart. He captures the peaks and troughs of a long-term relationship; sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. It’s never wholly one thing. It reminded me in many ways of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, the characters can forget all of the bad feelings from their relationship; here, Axl and Beatrice only have each other, but they can’t fully remember their good or their bad moments. They just want their memories back.
I am relieved to say that I loved this book. But I didn’t read it particularly quickly. I felt like I wanted to savour it. I was at once in a familiar yet unfamiliar world. I think that Ishiguro writes like nobody else; he has a style emphatically his own. I loved following the old couple around on their journey, and I loved that not everything was fully explained. Even if you think that ogres and monsters or, indeed, a so-called literary author, might not be for you, I think that you should give The Buried Giant a try.