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"The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Kazuo Ishiguro adopts a surprising setting for The Buried Giant: Britain in roughly the sixth century AD, and he conjures a dark and enfeebled mood for the island’s inhabitants, who are held in the thrall of a dragon’s amnesia-inducing spell. In addition to the dragon, there are ogres, evil sprites, and a flock of ghostly harridans to bewitch and bedevil. 

Mr. Ishiguro chooses this milieu to explore two combating ideals: one demands redress of injustice even if it means opening old wounds to do so, and the other seeks to forget the battles and conquests of the past and get on with life. On the large canvas, this means ending a dragon’s spell so that the country as a whole may remember the enormous injustices inflicted on the Saxon immigrant/invaders by the native Britons. And the married couple, Axl and Beatrice, whose story focuses the book, winnow this conflict down to its essentials.  They fret between themselves about what they’ll remember when the amnesia lifts, and what they’ll find at the end of their journey.

The author has a certain position on the issue, and it shows in how he resolves the conflict. He chose his setting very subtly, very shrewdly. By plunging his reader back to a time when King Arthur’s aged nephew Sir Gawain lives and still serves his long-dead king, he strips away anything that might distract from the problem at hand. The legend/lore aspect of his story serves to highlight the universality of the problem at hand. The balance evoked here is a tragic one; the Saxons in the story sing the lament of the vanquished, but we know their eventual success over the Britons does not same them their terrible trial with the Danish vikings centuries later. And I’m convinced this is part of Mr. Ishiguro’s design. I compliment the author both on his treatment of the issues undertaken and the elegance of his construct for doing so.


My qualms arise from some plot features that seem unnecessary - are the river-sprites really needed? The mortal danger Axl and Beatrice find themselves in could certainly have been illustrated without extra creatures. And the children on the mountainside and the poisonous goat? There are several places where I felt befuddlement about it all. And the aspect of nothing-is-as-it-appears felt too insistent at times, and at other times too slowly resolved.

On the whole, Mr. Ishiguro demonstrates his championship versatility - to have written this and The Remains of the Day just boggles the mind. I understand the thrall other readers feel, I do, but this effort falls a little below what I anticipated.

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