The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Read more...
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The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards--some strange and otherworldly--but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight--each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life's memories.
Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-01-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Ishiguro's new novel is set in Arthurian England—not the mythic land of knights, castles, and pageants most of us are familiar with, but a primitive and rural country likely far closer to historical reality. This is a gray and superstitious place, rather than a battlefield alive with the color and movement of steeds and fluttering banners; it's sparsely inhabited and scarcely advanced. Candles are preciously hoarded, and simple folk cluster together for safety amid vast stretches of untamed and fear-inspiring wilderness.The grim-textured, circa-sixth-century landscape is also a country haunted by magic, where ogres loom in the dark and steal children, and dragons are hunted by faded warriors like Sir Gawain. But its magic remains in the background, an earthy fact of life rather than a dazzle of sparkling make believe. Here British peasants eke out a hardscrabble existence from caves dug into hillsides, while the recent Saxon invaders live in more-advanced villages of rudimentary huts. A strange fog hovers over the dreary countryside—where an uneasy peace has balanced on a knife edge since the end of the most recent wars—robbing the populace of its memories. Into this countryside our protagonists—an elderly, ailing British couple named Axl and Beatrice—embark on a pilgrimage to the village of their half-forgotten son. It's a sad, elegiac story, one that has a tone and texture suited to its subject matter: a dreamy journey, repetitive and searching as lost memory. Conversations are formal and stilted, but their carefully crafted formality lends an austere rigor to the proceedings—Axl and Beatrice are following a gentle old-people's quest, not a dashing young knight's. Although they do cover literal ground and encounter figures of myth and legend along the way, their real search is clearly interior, a painstaking effort to know themselves and each other by piecing together the vestiges of their past. Memory is inseparable from personhood, in Beatrice's view, and personhood must be known for love to be authentic. Though she and Axl seem devoted to each other ("Princess," he calls her insistently, though she's manifestly anything but), she believes that their devotion, in the absence of memory, may prove insufficient to keep them together when they die. Her guiding fear is that the couple will be separated in the afterlife—on the "island," as the world of the dead is represented here—if they can't show the Charon-like boatman tasked with rowing them over that they know each other, and love each other, well enough to be granted the rare privilege of crossing that last water together rather than alone.The gift of remembering, as it turns out, will come at a steep price, not for the two aging and kindhearted Britons but for their country.The Buried Giant is a slow, patient novel, decidedly unshowy but deliberate and precise—easy to read but difficult to forget.
A mythic masterwork
Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
The couple, who are Britons and Christians, are joined mid-journey by a young Saxon knight, Wistan, as well as a boy, Edwin, whom the knight has rescued from the hands of superstitious villagers. This unlikely quartet meets an aging Sir Gawain, the last survivor of Arthur’s round table, in the woods, and makes its way to a fortress-turned-monastery.
Despite the swords and monsters, this is not the sex and violence fictional world of George R.R. Martin. Ishiguro has crafted a haunting allegory, rife with symbols and archetypes. Its deceptively simple narrative unfolds with the ease of a timeless fairy tale, and as with all classic fairy tales it works as a universal parable. Like much of Ishiguro’s work, The Buried Giant is about the clouds of memory, our human imperfections and our unresolved pasts. It is a welcome return by one of our most subtle, thought-provoking novelists.