No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, February 26, 2018

2018/09: The Buried Giant -- Kazuo Ishiguro

Who knows what will come when quick-tongued men make ancient grievances rhyme with fresh desire for land and conquest? [p. 323]
It's the Dark Ages: you can tell because there are Britons and Saxons, and the vague memory of King Arthur. But all memories are vague, or non-existent. Beatrice and Axl are an elderly couple who, though they can't remember much about their lives together, suddenly remember that they had a son, and decide to visit him.

Their journey is eventful. After a single day's walking they reach a village which has been attacked by ogres, and meet a Saxon warrior (Wistan) and Edwin, the 'ogre-bitten' boy he saves from the wrath of the villagers. Travelling with Wistan and Edwin, Axl begins to remember fragments of his past. As does Beatrice. There are also monks, pixies, a mysterious Charon-like boatman, an ill-tempered goat, assorted monsters, soldiers both Saxon and Briton, and Sir Gawain.

There's a sense of timelessness about this novel that I found at once captivating and irritating. Who is the narrator, who thinks that 'you, or perhaps your parents' were brought up in roundhouses, and who occasionally waxes philosophical about the mist of forgetfulness that's fallen over everyone?

I liked the dreaminess of the post-Roman landscape, the ruined villas and the desolate passes. Ishiguro's portrayal of Axl and Beatrice, and their faith in and love for one another, is touching. Even for them, though, the return of memory carries risks.

I think I like this book more in hindsight than I did while reading it. The authorial voice annoyed me, and the fantastical elements felt heavy-handed. Some beautiful prose, though.

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