Book Review: The Buried Giant

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 10.07.46 AMIshiguro was first thrusted into my hands via a friend and his copy of Never Let Me Go. Expecting a Murakami cousin (because who wouldn’t), I was surprised to find that the book contained no cats, no fish falling from the sky. Doing some background research before reading The Buried Giant led me to find the reason why this game of Murakami bingo was not going so well. Ishiguro grew up in the UK and still continues to live there, well away from any Japanese influences belonging to the motherland. He’s even been quoted to say “”If I wrote under a pseudonym and got somebody else to pose for my jacket photographs, I’m sure nobody would think of saying, ‘This guy reminds me of that Japanese writer.'”

“A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more.”

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro:

Rating: ★★

The fact that Ishiguro is nothing like Murakami isn’t to set up and say that The Buried Giant is a bad book. The novel is Ishiguro’s 7th, set in a medieval post-King Arthur time period where an uneasy peace has fallen between the dwellers of the land, Britons and Saxons. I warmed up very early on to the two main characters Axl and Beatrice, an old couple that lives in a village,  doing their things at a turtle’s pace with a strange affliction that causes memory loss. This isn’t attributed to their old age, you soon find out that everyone living on the land has been exposed to “the mist”, which has turned their past memories into hazy barely-there recollections.

The lack of memories, the journey they go on to visit their son’s village and the strange people along the way seem to all be a metaphor for something that I can’t seem to pinpoint. Every character seemed to be magical or have some kind of unexplained agenda, like the old lady who sat in the ruins keeping dead baby rabbits in her pocket and the pixies in the river which wanted to kidnap Beatrice (explanation not given).

What does it all mean??

Also if I read Axl saying ‘Yes princess” one more damn time, I was ready to throw the book from my balcony and into the torrential rains of Sydney that we had this week. I don’t doubt that Ishiguro has intentionally created these layers underneath a linear storyline to make some kind of large-ish and profound statement about life, but perhaps I am not as intelligent or well read enough to have picked it up 🙁

My favourite thing about the book though/the only thing I got from it is that the buried giant itself is not a physical entity. Which I thought was wonderfully ironic in a story filled with dragons and other beasts. The buried giant is an allusion to the secrets we keep – in the novel’s case, the past forgotten – and for the party to get rid of this mist is to wake the giant. And if you think about the skeleton’s in our closet as a living being, it only goes to say that the more we keep them buried the larger they grow.

In terms of technical expertise, some parts seem as hazy as the memory loss itself. Characters seem to be able to conveniently remember certain things and forget others regardless of when the events took place. This led James Wood of the New Yorker to ask truly ‘Is it a mist or an intermittent rain?’. Despite this, I found that overall Ishiguro did a good job. A good job as any to be writing about a novel when characters seemingly cannot remember anything. It’s not the impossible task – I am reminded of Jonathan Nolan’s Memento Mori – but it’s something that strikes me as pretty fiendishly difficult, not unlike when Townsend’s iconic Adrian Mole at creating a book without a language.

My ratings are usually the go to TL;DR of my thoughts, but just quickly in dot points

  • Novel travels at a nice, serene pace, you’ll feel like a turtle as well
  • Confusing understand of the mist
  • More layers than a slice of kuih lapis, which is good if you know what Ishiguro is getting at. Bewildering if you don’t, but perhaps I’m not well read enough to appreciate his allusions
  • At times feels like a Disney version of A Song of Ice and Fire. There are dragons, cultish monks, demons and knights, but although characters die and there is blood, Ishiguro somehow manages to never mention it while it still being the case
  • Read if: You like toned down fantasy fiction that asks the big questions in life
  • Don’t read if: You like action

I received my copy of The Buried Giant through winning a competition on Allen & Unwin’s Facebook page.

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