Book review: ‘The Buried Giant’ authored by Nobel Prize for Literature winner
Kazuo Ishiguro is a best-selling author whose works have garnered praise and won awards since the 1980s, when his novel “Remains of the Day” captivated readers and inspired a well-received Merchant-Ivory film adaptation.
Ishiguro has so astounded the literary world over the decades since then that he was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. His most recent novel, “The Buried Giant,” is a fantastical romp through post-Arthurian England, and it is a marvel of a book that undoubtedly helped tip the scales in his favor with the Nobel Committee.
Though born in Nagasaki, Japan, Ishiguro grew up in England, and the myths and ethos of the British Isles have long inspired his writing.
“The Buried Giant” is a loose retelling of the chivalric tale “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” but Ishiguro lends his own unique and characteristically unconventional spin to the legend, crafting a rich and atmospheric study of human relationships and the momentous cascades of personal memory and societal amnesia.
Ishiguro crafts his tale in such a fashion that it can be read and reread with multiple interpretations and repeatedly appreciated for its nuanced layers of melancholic obscurity. As enigmatic as the narrative is on its deepest level, there is much that will read as familiar, for Ishiguro borrows stylistically from many genres, most notably from classic fairy tales, mythology, fables and fantasy.
As recognizable as some of those hints of relatable literary tropes might be, there is much in Ishiguro’s quirky tale that seems elusive and even unearthly, especially to modern readers, whose only real taste of tales from the time period of Arthurian legends comes from a handful of pure fantasy novels and television shows about Merlin.
Ishiguro seems to revel in this lack of clarity, personified by a shrouding mist that he places over the characters throughout most of the novel.
It is this mist that seems to have robbed the land’s inhabitants of their recollections of the past, and whether it is a function of old age or an unintended neglect of their memories remains a mystery to the characters as they navigate the debilitating shroud to seek clarity.
STORIES WITHIN STORIES
Just as in “Lord of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved saga of courage and chivalry, Ishiguro’s characters coalesce into a fellowship of sorts.
There are the old husband and wife who bravely step out of their hole-in-the-ground home into the unknown in the hopes of finding what they have lost. There is the brave and inscrutable warrior, who is on a most noble quest. There is Sir Gawain, himself, cementing Ishiguro’s nod to the classic tale. There are medicine women, ogres, dragons and creatures of the night.
There are also stories within stories, all of which are revealed at a slow burn throughout the book, an experience that is oddly soporific, while alluring and beguiling at the same time.
One of the mini narratives within the larger allegorical theme is the captivating love story of Beatrice and Axl, the old couple who begin the rambling adventure that dominates the book. They meet a ferry boat operator, who says his job is to shuttle people — always one-by-one — across the water to a mysterious island, and only couples who have exhibited true love are permitted to go together, for the inhabitants of the island live in inexplicable solitude, no matter how many people the island sustains.
Ishiguro puts this profound concept of love at the center of his book, for how truly can two people love each other if they have no memories of their past, shared or otherwise. How much of love is the memories that are created together? When those memories fade, does love remain?
Though its voice is idiosyncratic and peculiarly archaic, “The Buried Giant” is really a profound study of the journey of life, of its joys and regrets and what is carried and what is discarded.