The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried GiantI’ve had mixed views about Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels in the past. I was baffled by ‘Never Let Me Go’ but enjoyed it, I was even more baffled by ‘The Unconsoled‘ and enjoyed it much less. I liked ‘When We Were Orphans’ but thought it wasn’t quite as good as ‘The Remains of the Day’ which I think is a modern classic. My initial thoughts on his latest novel ‘The Buried Giant’ definitely lean more towards bafflement than enjoyment.

Having tackled science fiction in ‘Never Let Me Go’, his last novel which was published a decade ago, and detective fiction in ‘When We Were Orphans’, Ishiguro has moved on to historical fantasy territory in ‘The Buried Giant’. As regular readers of my blog will have guessed, fantasy isn’t my favourite genre but if the writing is likely to be good, I will give it a go. Set in the Dark Ages after a war between Saxons and Britons, it tells the story of Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who set out on a journey to find their son who has disappeared, encountering knights, monks and a dragon called Querig along the way. Axl, Beatrice and the rest of the community only have vague recollections of certain elements of the past and Querig must be killed in order for their memories to return. They refer to this collective amnesia as “the mist”and the memories they do have are not ones that they all share.

One of the more eloquently written one-star reviews of ‘The Buried Giant’ sums up the book as follows: “Imagine if you will Lords of the Rings without Orcs, battles, wizards or any form of action told in the tones of Stevens the butler from Remains of the Day.” The prose itself manages to be simultaneously vague and literal – individual sentences make sense on their own but the cumulative effect is as dense as the mist descending on the community.

Although Ishiguro’s work is impossible to pigeonhole into one genre, memory has been a key theme in all of his novels. In general, I find it is usually one of the more interesting themes in literature as it generates a lot of scope for ambiguity. However, I do tend to struggle with books where none of the characters have a clue about what’s going on, or any clear memory of the experiences which have shaped their personality, especially in a setting as vague as the Dark Ages. I skimmed the last four chapters although I don’t think I missed much.

I think ‘The Buried Giant’ would have seriously struggled to find an audience had the book not had Ishiguro’s name on the cover and I can see why the response has been mostly underwhelming. However, like other genre-hopping writers such as Ian McEwan and Dave Eggers, Ishiguro’s body of work is so varied that I doubt that many of his readers would claim to enjoy all of his novels equally – not that this is likely to bother Ishiguro who seems to be an author who truly only writes for himself.

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33 Comments

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33 responses to “The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. Desiree B. Silvage

    Reblogged this on Literary Truce.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the quote from the one-star review. I really enjoyed The Buried Giant, but it’s so hard to pin it down!

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  3. Nice review. I like the way you wove so much context around it – the theme of memory, discussions of different genres, the way books find audiences if their authors are already famous. Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors for his themes and the fact that he is so varied.

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  4. I loved Remains of the Day, When we were Orphans and Never Let me Go but I never did fancy The Unconsoled which sounded very confusing and I can’t say The Buried Giant appeals much either. Fantasy isn’t for me either.

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  5. Even though I love fantasy and I (sometimes) love Ishiguro, this doesn’t really appeal to me and I think you’ve put your finger on it with the fact that none of the characters have a clue what’s going on! That just sounds too vague for me. I will probably get to it one day but it isn’t top of the list.

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  6. I realise I heard some of this book being read on the radio. Maybe it was book at bedtime? It didn’t strike me as being very engaging at the time. I agree with you about Ishiguro. Remains of the Day is a classic. A perfect book. The rest are a little too strange for my tastes.

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  7. Remains of the Day is one of my favourite books ever. I did enjoy Never Let Me Go but was, like you, completely baffled by The Unconsoled – in fact, I gave up about half way through when I found that there wasn’t going to be any kind of resolution. I’ll add The Buried Giant to my ‘to read’ list.

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  8. Great review!! I am now still undecided whether to read it….

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  9. I wasn’t thrilled with it. I have a review coming up in a few weeks.

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  10. If my local Libray acquires the book, I might give it a go .. but it’ll be low on my list. Thanks for an insightful review.

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  11. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net)

    I think you’re right to say the book is gaining an audience mainly because of the name on the cover; not that I think it’s a bad book, I actually really enjoyed it. It is probably closest to ‘The Unconsoled’ in terms of being difficult to grasp for the reader and problematic as a reading experience on that account. It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up sitting in his canon – I suspect it’s audience will be more niche than ‘The Remains of the Day’ or ‘Never Let Me Go’, but I think, like ‘The Unconsoled’, it’s a book that’s going to keep readers busy for years trying to unpick it.

    My review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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  12. Hi, think we are pretty unanimous in raving about ROTH and being frequently baffled by TU – this is one of those “1001 books, so felt a little duty bound not only to persevere but to enjoy it more than I did. Was wondering where this write would sit, and suspect am going to hold off from dashing to read it after seeing your review. NLMG was fascinating; this may fall by the wayside for many. Thank you for reviewing it so early! Nicola

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  13. I checked this out of the library, but couldn’t even get past page 12. I don’t think I gave it a fair shot, though; school was just ending and I was wrapping up my classroom. I may come back to it another time.

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  14. The Cue Card

    I’m a big fan of Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day but I havent totally decided if I want to read this one. I’m not into fantasy either. This one as you describe sounds quite foggy.

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  15. I love Fantasy and I love Ishiguro, but your review and that one-star review on Amazon makes me think I”ll get to it later than sooner.

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