The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

Books May 1, 2015


This is actually the first Kazuo Ishiguro novel (I lament to admit) I’ve ever read. I’ve seen film adaptations of his books but obviously that’s no supplement for the “real deal”. I saw him interviewed on the BBC one morning and though his description of the narrative was a little vague (or I was otherwise occupied with my cereal) I was interested enough to go and pick it up. I think what piqued my interest is that it was literary fiction with a dragon at the heart of its plot. I’m not really sure where the line is to be drawn. Is it because there are greater themes with mimetics and loss at play? Or is it the illusion of the prose being more “elevated”. But surely many fantasy novels are capable of all these things as well. Perhaps it’s because it’s a pastiche of older tropes like Sir Gawain and the Arthurian legends that sets it apart (though George RR Martin makes use of allusions to Hadrian’s wall and the War of the Roses so I don’t know what makes that any different). I’m not well read enough in fantasy to conclude as to what I think about it all. Once I’ve drawn a proper conclusion I’ll be sure to share it regardless.

Though our two protagonists Axl and his wife Beatrice live ostensibly in a human-sized warren, there’s nothing about this settlement that reminds me of Hobbiton or Lord of the Rings. In fact, I can confidently say that Ishiguro has created an environment that I’m little able to draw any comparisons to despite the presence of ogres and the like.

“Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land…But such monsters were not cause for astonishment. People then would have regarded them as everyday hazards, and in those days there was so much else to worry about.”

Perhaps it’s the prose that is so easy and unassuming compared to the tone of other historical fiction and fantasy novels that made it seem more like a work of literary fiction. When I do read fantasy novels I immediately feel transported and firmly rooted in the world I’m engaging with, though distinctly passive in them. In the Buried Giant, I sometimes felt like I was reading something modern and then a reference to the iron age would be made that would wrench me back to the time it was intended to be set it. Furthermore, I felt as though I would be addressed in a way that insinuated that I too was from that time. It was an interesting narrative device since it made it seem a little more interactive than passive. Nevertheless, I never found this to be too distracting from the plot despite how much I found it dragged in the first hundred pages or so. Despite this, I still absolutely loved this book and would highly recommend it.

A mist has enveloped the land greatly affecting people’s memory as Axl and Beatrice begin to remember a lost son whom is waiting for them in his neighbouring village. They set out on journey to reunite with their son and encounter various characters along the way. This includes an aging and Don Quixote-esque Sir Gawain who seeks out the she-dragon Querig who turns out to be the source of the mysterious mist. I’ll try not to spoil too much but I think the subtlety of this novel is amazing in how it answers very few of the questions it poses. I did find some issues with verisimilitude when a young Saxon that gets bitten by the dragon is ostracized by his community and sneaks off with Axl and Beatrice to avoid the death penalty. Later, we find out the dragon would have been little capable of biting the boy and we’re given no explanation or justification for this. I found this lack of credibility in the plot line quite disconcerting. However, I love when a book leaves me thinking about it for weeks afterwards (which sadly with my memory seldom happens).

On a final note, I often find myself listening to one particular album with a novel. With this particular book I was drawn to Olafur Arnalds and Sara Ott’s new album The Chopin Project. It’s a fantastic re-imagining or pastiche of some of Chopin’s works. It’s a much more creaky, ambient sound-scape then one is normally accustomed to from a classical album and it ranges from nuance to overtly melancholic. If you compare some of the tracks to older more structured recordings you definitely get the sense that they are a motif more than a replication. I think it’s a really fascinating approach to classical music and I hope it becomes more of a trend. Even if you’re not a classical music fan in the slightest this album is definitely worth a listen.



Instead of whispering plot points to herself like a creep, Elaine now writes about them.

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