Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant: A Book Review

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After completing Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, a novel exploring England after the Norman invasion, I ventured into Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, a much kinder, gentler walk through the same land, this time following the journey of an aging couple of Britons named Axl and Beatrice. This couple, deeply in love and facing the inevitable product of old age, set out to find their son, a man who had left them many years back never to return. Like much of the region, they have problems of memory—much of their personal past, the regions past, and even their son’s own face have vanished from recognition. Axl cannot remember why his son had quarreled with him, and as time passes he comes to understand that his fundamental drive and purpose had also been forgotten, for he has forgotten his life as a young man as well.

Undeterred, Axl and Beatrice set out into a land where dragons, ogres, and sprites are real. This is a place where racial tensions between Saxons and Britons exist, but while they are a powder keg ready to blow at any minute, the mist as it is called, keeps them in check. People go out for a walk, never return, and society forgets. Ogres attack and wound a boy, and he becomes an anathema, a Grendel that must be killed lest he become a beast himself. Boatmen question lovers before placing taking them on their journeys to see if their love stands the test of time, and if not, the separate the couple forever with nary a word. The Christian God is here and accepted, but to many, the mysticism of the land speaks and rules the day, the two philosophies growing in concert even if no one can remember why.

Ishiguro’s tale shows a novelist at his best. The prose, even when times are tense, remains calm and poetic, the events believable. We meet the famed Sir Gawain, but find a man broken and grayed by age, yet he defends Arthur’s cause, working to kill the Buried Giant that lurks nearby and haunts the land. It is with this giant, that the reader is drawn in, for it is the true quest, uniting an aging night, an elderly couple, and a brazen warrior for a common cause whilst each attempts to maintain their own, disparate quest.

Favorite Lines:

  • “The giant, once well buried, now stirs. When soon he rises, as surely he will, the friendly bonds between us will prove knots young girls make with the stems of small flowers. Men will burn their neighbors’ houses by night. Hang children from trees at dawn. The rivers will stink with corpses bloated from days of voyaging. And even as they move on, our armies will grow larger, swollen by anger and thirst for vengeance.” (297)

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