I’ve never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, though I did see Never Let Me Go (so sad) and have The Remains of the Day on my bookshelf. Those two stories appear to be very different from each other and each different from The Buried Giant. The Buried Giant is a sort of fairy tale. There are ogres, dragons, knights, and magic. This is not an average fairy tale. There is a thread of realism throughout the book and it asks, does forgiveness require us to forget?
The story begins with Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple of Britons, who leave their home to reunite with their son living in another village. They are also on a quest to find out what is causing a mist of forgetfulness that spreads across the country. The mist makes people forget events that happened years, months, even days before. Axl and Beatrice fear that their most cherished memories of their married life and of their son are lost to them forever.
Along the way, they meet both a Saxon warrior, and Gawain, the last of King Arthur’s knights. These men are on separate missions to kill the dragon Querig, who is at the center of the mist problem. Axl and Beatrice are anxious to be reunited with their son, but lifting the spell is a more pressing need.
A spell that makes people forget their grudges doesn’t seem like a bad idea. For years, the Saxons and Britons have lived together in peace, but signs of a violent past are everywhere around them. They live as neighbours, but eye each other with suspicion. What will the lifting of the mist reveal? On a personal level, Axl and Beatrice are the most loving of couples. Although they are gentle with each other, there are niggling doubts as to whether their marriage was always a happy one. Not all memories are good memories. Is it possible their feelings of devotion will change once they remember old hurts?
In an interview with The New York Times, Kazuo Ishiguro tells how he wanted to explore how societies get beyond the atrocities committed by them and to them during times of war. A forgetting spell seems an ideal solution, but it can’t last. Can human beings really forgive without forgetting? When I see the terrible things happening in the world today, I wonder if it’s possible. Reading The Buried Giant, I came away feeling an overwhelming sadness with humanity. Letting go of grudges is one of the most challenging parts of being human, individually and as a society. While at least one of the characters wants revenge for past wrongs, Axl and Beatrice want the love they feel for each other to last forever, but wonder if it can withstand close scrutiny.
I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing, even though it made me blue. The tenderness of Axl and Beatrice for each other was one of the things I enjoyed the most. Sometimes I was confused, as the characters are confused themselves. I didn’t always know what was real and what was imagined. The Arthurian tale is getting mixed reviews, and it is a strange story, but I think he did well and accomplished what he set out to do. I wasn’t disappointed and if this is the worst that he can do, then I expect to be blown away by his best.
About the Audio: David Horovitch narrates The Buried Giant. I felt like I was being told an old timey story by an ancient knight. He really made the experience of listening to this 12 hour book more enjoyable.
Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.