Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant is Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in ten years. Since the publication of his last novel, Never Let Me Go, in 2005 literary critics and Ishiguro fans have been kept waiting. But the wait was definitely worth it.
This novel presents yet another challenge for the reader, in the classic style of Kazuo Ishiguro. His books frequently and repeatedly make the reader question aspects of their lives and challenge their thinking. In that sense, The Buried Giant fits in with themes of Ishiguro’s previous books. Set in a magical land of pixies and ogres, in a time superstition and magic, the novel encourages the reader to step out of their reality and be immersed in this unconventional world. Moreover, the author steps out of his own box by completely changing his style from the first person narrative present in all of his previous novels, to a third person one, whose narrator remains ambiguous until the end.
As in many previous novels, Ishiguro uses popular genres (this time, Fantasy) to explore universal and difficult themes. The novel has faced criticism from authors such as Ursula K. LeGuin, who accused Kazuo Ishiguro of “despising” the genre. While it’s true that Ishiguro has made use of the genre’s conventions without writing a Fantasy novel, it is fair to say that he does not do so mockingly. (If anything, discussion of this just proves how slippery generic terms can be.) On the contrary, he uses a Fantasy context to raise questions about remembering and forgetting, love and marriage. But most crucially, he uses it to show that there is one thing human kind has always been good at: war.
Set in a semi-mythical Britain, some time between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Saxons, The Buried Giant tells the story of Beatrice and Axl, an old couple who go searching for their son. The novel revolves around this couple, who draw the rest of the characters together, and it is through their eyes that the reader discovers this magical world. Ishiguro masterfully uses the two characters to introduce the main questions of the novel: when your memories are marked by war, is it better to forget in order to stop the cycle of violence? Or should we always strive to remember past atrocities? Do long relationships last because the people involved chose to forget the difficult times? Can love resist the threat of the past?
All in all, The Buried Giant is a mesmerizing book that offers a very different (and yet familiar) reading experience to Ishiguro’s previous novels. The only criticism I would bring to it is that sometimes the mythological context and the abundance of symbols in the story can slow down the pace of the novel, and this may put off readers who are not used to Ishiguro’s style. However, it is perfect for readers who like to be challenged by the books they read and are always looking for innovative pieces of literature.