March 24, 2015

Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Review of the novel The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant placed in a post-Arthurian era is filled with dragons, ogres, pixies and fiends. No, they are not the main theme of the novel, but they are part of the scenery. Moreover, every dragon has its knight, whose mission is to kill him. The she-dragon of this book is not an exception, there is a knight, a warrior and even villagers and small kids who wish her dead. Up to this point, this book isn't anything different from the typical fantasy novel. There is though an interesting twist to it. The protagonists, Axl and Beatrice, the knight, Sir Gawain and even the she-dragon herself, are all advanced in age. This fact adds more obstacles in their ways and different kind of worries. 

Although the age is a major factor in this novel, the most important thing is what the elderly couple call the mist. There is something in the land that steals everyone's memories, both the good ones and the bad. People wander the land without remembering the purpose for it and they forget even their once beloved ones, like their children. Through this mist one morning Axl remembers his son and so he begins a journey with Beatrice to go and find him in the village he lives, which is a few days away. On their way, while they take shelter of a sudden storm they meet a boatman. He informs them that there is an island, in which a lot of couples wish to go together, but only those who can prove the strength of their love can do it. The proof seems quite simple, they have to share with the boatman their most happy memory they possess with their partner and the boatman judges the strength of their bond. Beatrice becomes troubled with the news since the mist prevents them from remembering almost anything from their past.

Later on their journey they meet a Saxon warrior named Winstan, who takes a curious interest in Axl. He declares that he remembers him from when he was a little child, being a man of authority among the Britons, but Axl doesn't remember being anything else other than a farmer. Their party is complete with a 12-year-old Saxon boy, Edwin, who is rescued from his villagers after been bitten by some ogres. Although they form a strange party, they travel together until they reach a monastery. On their way, they meet Sir Gawain, an old knight and cousin of King Arthur, who was charged with the duty to slay the she-dragon, Querig, and has failed to do for many years. The party eventually breaks and everyone goes on his way, but they meet again before the dragon's lair, where everyone has a different reason to see Querig dead.

When Arthur was alive he tried to make the war between the Britons and the Saxons end, without much success. Then Merlin cast a spell on Querig, so that her breath would steal the memories of the people. That way the hatred that was cultivated would cease and peace would come to the land. But with her gone the people would remember and Saxons would seek vengeance once more. As Winstan says "The giant once buried, now stirs. When soon he rises, as surely he will, the friendly bonds between us will prove as knots young girls make with the stems of small flowers". The main question of this book is whether it is best not to remember sometimes the past and let the buried be undisturbed. Even a couple who appears happy is threatened by the past. The end of this book left me numb.

The characters in The Buried Giant weren't the most loveable I've encountered in literature. Axl's devotion to Beatrice was touching and his way to approach such different people was astonishing. But Beatrice seemed at times unnatural, although it was she that suggested the questions of this book, in order to get answered by Axl much later. Edwin really got on my nerves, most of the times his motives were obscure and his actions careless. Winstan was one of the most likeable characters, caught between his feelings and his duty. Sir Gawain although at first seemed like a coward his role in the story is an important one and I won't spoil it. 

The main problem of the book is that I never really connected with the protagonists. When finally I started to feel something about them, it was near the end of the book and as I've already said this left me numb. I would also like to learn more about each one's past. We learn some fragments of the long forgotten past of Axl and Beatrice, but when the mist is finally lifted and we hope to know some more we are disappointed.  

To sum things up, The Buried Giant is an interesting read. Its ideas and questions are sure to trouble you for quite some time and the writing is good. At times, it even has the feel of a myth. The characters are mostly unrelatable and that spoiled it for me. So my advice is...

Turn the pages with caution!  


4 comments:

  1. I actually haven't read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro yet, even though there are, for some reason, two copies of Never Let Me Go in my house. I think that I'll definitely read that one instead of this though. The premise seems fairly standard for a fantasy book, albeit it with a twist or two. I'm quite concerned that you said that you couldn't connect with the protagonists, because I tend to find that when I don't care about the main characters, I tend to not care about the book. I'd say I'll read this if I become a fan of Ishiguro, but not otherwise. Thanks for the great review!

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    1. I agree, you shoulld read first Never Let Me Go. It's an amazing book and one of the best by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Buried Giant is another story. To be honest, I've been thinking about it all day today, especially the end which I can't spoil. I didn't see it coming, but love isn't enough to get over the past.

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  2. Haven't read anything from Ishiguro even though that I should. Never Let Me Go is on my tbr forever and want to read it so much but I always forget to pick it up
    This book seems so interesting and I'd love yo read it. Loved your review.
    Eliza from The Bookish Universe
    http://thebookishuniverse.wordpress.com

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    1. If you haven't read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro then you should start with Never Let Me Go instead of The Buried Giant. It will be the best introduction to this author and you're going to love it!

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