08 February 2023

Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover

I enjoyed The Remains of the Day, the story of an ageing butler reminiscing about serving Lord Darlington between WWI and WWII, while Klara and the Sun was an interesting science fiction novel about artificial intelligence. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2015, however it was a disappointing read for me. Australian author Ben Hobson recently shared his love for this book but wondered why so many readers didn't enjoy it. Here's why.

This is the story of Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple in a fictional post-Arthurian Britain where people across the land suffer from forgetfulness and a type of collective amnesia. The pair set off on a quest to find their son and discuss the mist causing the memory loss with others they meet along the way. What I found instantly irritating and relentlessly repetitive was the overkill with regard to the characters using each other's names ALL the time. Axl calls Beatrice princess and it drove me up the wall. I've flipped to a random page to share an example with you:
"It can wait till the morning, Axl. It's not even a pain I notice till we're speaking of it." "Even so, princess, now we're here, why not go and see the wise woman?" Page 55
Stilted dialogue aside, The Buried Giant is a post-Roman fantasy with touches of Tolkien complete with pixies, ogres and even a dragon. Intergenerational conflict is an important topic in the novel with the hatred and distrust between the Saxons and the Britons sure to resurface if the memory dampening mist is dispersed. Axl and Beatrice contemplate whether it's better not to remember at all if there's a risk the traumatic memories of war and genocide could come tumbling back with the years of separation, love and loss.

I might have cared for all of this - the vicious cycle of hate and violence and the hopelessness of war - but the overarching narrative was unclear. I was unable to decipher the meaning of the ogres or the purpose of the pixies; if indeed there was any. Did they represent foreign powers? The mixed tense was often confusing and what was that about the black birdlike hags/women? Is the boatman death? Or does the island represent death? Or am I wrong on both counts? The mysteriously omniscient narrator who revealed themselves at the end (I think?) as part of a frustratingly ambiguous ending only served to increase my ire.

It would seem I don't belong to the literary 'in crowd' for whom this was written, but in my opinion, there was too much expectation on the reader to pick up on the hidden meanings, subtext and literary devices that must be holding this up. If I have to work hard in order to figure a book out, then it needs to deliver, otherwise the reading joy ebbs away and that's what happened here.

If you've been following Carpe Librum for any length of time, you'll know I'm not a fan of an ambiguous ending, and boy do we have a doozy here. Published in 2015, and with many of you having no doubt read this before me, I think I can safely ask... What do you think happened at the very end? After being questioned, did they stay together or not? Did Axl? Or didn't he? Someone put me out of my misery, quick!

After reading The Buried Giant, I think Ishiguro and I are done for now.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I read this long ago Tracey but I never try to decipher the meaning of books I just read it as a fantasy. I took the boat as being the journey to death, crossing over, and the island was death.

    1. Thanks Veronica, sometimes I can let the analysis paralysis go and just enjoy, but was unable to here. So if the boat, journey and island represents death and the end of our characters, then it leaves so many questions unanswered. Once they remembered all of their lives together, did they stay in love? Did the traumatic memories between them return when the mist dispersed? Did they stay together? Did they see their son? What happens in the land when the mist is dispersed? I was disappointed that none of the issues we considered in the previous pages were answered.

  2. The Buried Giant has been on my 'might get around to ' list for ages as it's synopsis is intriguing and I've frequently seen it highly recommended. However the aspects that irritated you would wind me up as well, so I think I will quietly remove it in favour of something else!

    1. Thanks Stephanie, I think this is the type of book that divides readers, so if you haven't read anything from this author before, I'd try another of his books before this one. Happy to have saved you from a potential wind up, there are always better books waiting for us 😉


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