(Note: This review contains vague spoilers.)
Remains of the Day is one of my favourite books ever and I thoroughly enjoyed Never Let Me Go. So, when I heard that Kazuo Ishiguro had a new novel on offer, I quickly sought to get a hold of it. I landed this copy, an ARC via Reading Room (thanks!), but to be honest, I would have bought it at the full retail price if I’d been unsuccessful at gaining the freebie.
And now that I’d read The Buried Giant… I’m wondering if my expectations were far too high. Or that perhaps I should have researched the plot and setting of this new novel more thoroughly before my excitement got the better of me.
The book tells us about an old married couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are living in England just after King Arthur’s reign. They come to realise that everyone they know, including themselves, has been struck down by a mysterious curse of forgetfulness. They leave their village intending to visit their son, whom they’ve suddenly remembered, and whom they believe to live in a neighbouring village, before it’s too late. On their journey they encounter a young boy who may or may not be infected by some (werewolf?) cursed creature’s poison, a warrior who decides to escort/protect the boy for no real reason other than the boy seemed brave, a knight who gets around in full armour and may or may not be completely mad, and a number of other minor strange and creepy characters who come and go including monks, witches, boatmen, abandoned children etc etc.
Along the way the central characters all come to the conclusion that a she-dragon’s breath is to blame for their lost memories. And they also all agree that they must kill the she-dragon if their memories are to return.
If I look at the plot on face value, I can see many of the twists a mile off. The ending was no great shock in any way. The secrets the dragon’s mist concealed no great mystery or surprise. This disappointed me somewhat. I was waiting for that climactic reveal to raise the story to another level.
On a whole, the characters were likable, but not lovable. I liked Axl and Beatrice well enough, but there seemed to be something just missing for me to pass over into that same adoration I feel for Stevens or Kathy. Again, the revelations of Axl’s past were not enough for me. I wanted more. Also, I didn’t particularly like his annoying habit of calling Beatrice ‘Princess’ and I was actually waiting for some big reveal on this score.
I wasn’t overly fond of the young boy, Edwin, either. The ending made it seem to me that perhaps this young boy would be influenced by the kindness shown to him by Axl and Beatrice and thus their redemption would be complete when Edwin become the saviour who ends the Saxon/Britton war, but as I know too little about the actual history of this time, I could be quite remarkably incorrect in this assumption.
The style is quite different from the previous novels I mentioned. First person point of view is used in both those, quite effectively. First person is perhaps my favourite form of writing overall, especially when it’s done by skilled writers like Ishiguro. So his departure to this jumble of point of views, jumping inner thoughts, and untagged and rambling dialogue was quite a shock. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I could still follow the story, despite this, but I just feel that if the book was written strictly from the lead character’s (Axl or Beatrice’s) point of view, I would have engaged and loved the characters more.
I skimmed through other reviews just before writing this and most people were shocked by the medieval fantasy setting. I must say I also wasn’t expecting dragons and pixies and knights and magicians and castles and ogres! I don’t read the genre often, and I kept thinking that perhaps it was all a ruse. I kept waiting for the dragon to be revealed as simply a… I don’t know… A goat! (What *was* the point of the goat?) And as I close the back cover, I’m still unsure whether it was all a ruse.
Is the whole setting a ruse? Do any of the mythical creatures, or for that matter the human characters, our hero and heroine encounter along their journey even exist? I feel like I should assume the whole thing is a metaphor (I feel like Hazel Grace is rolling her eyes at my stupidity, in fact). Even the title itself is a metaphor. But… Whereas I found I could grasp the theme and hidden meanings and messages of the two former Ishiguro books, I’m a little more unsure this time around. What lessons I’m supposed to learn from the words I just read are a little hazy to my simple mind!
Am I to know that we are only a sum of our memories? That our worth is nought without them? Am I to assume that vengeance is futile? Am I to assume that forgiveness is divine? So many lessons I’m supposing I should be learning, but I think they’re just buried along with the giant.
So… Overall would I recommend you read this book? No, not really. I actually don’t think I would have kept reading and finished the book if it didn’t have Ishiguro’s name on the front cover. I believe The Buried Giant is a particular taste that some people might have the depth to enjoy, but I feel like the average reader will be searching for enlightenment and feeling, like me, rather simple minded!