The Buried Giant. Knopf Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
This is a world of ogres and dragons, where Britons and Saxons are shrouded in a “mist” of forgetfulness but destined never to forget or forgive past battles. In this mythical landscape, two Britons, Axl and his wife Beatrice, set out on a quest to re-connect with their son. Along the way they meet Wistan, a Saxon knight, and Edwin, a Saxon boy, who is in search of his lost mother. The four travel over the mountain, the longer and more arduous route, separated and re-united at various stages of the journey. They encounter Sir Gawain, a knight from King Arthur’s court, who later leads them to Querig, the she-dragon. Even though the mist does not fully clear, there are moments when Axl begins to recall his past. Gawain’s presence triggers Axl’s recollection of a time when he was entrusted with “a law to bring all men closer to God.” Wistan and Gawain have also previously met; however, each now cagily conceals his true intentions and attempts to gauge his opponent. No one is as he/she seems and alliances are often convenient and strategic deceptions whereby seeming allies conceal their true allegiances. The story suggests that the friendships forged between these particular Britons and Saxons, Beatrice, Axl, Wistan and Edwin, may enable each to remember their alliances in times of future conflict and question the need for revenge, even though they may not be able to stop the progression of events.
Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction for Remains of the Day and author of numerous novels, screenplays and short fiction, blends fantasy, myth, history, allegory and parable in a memorable tale about amnesia. It is a beautifully crafted story about love and loss and the difficulties of breaking the cycles of violence and revenge that result from wars. The husband and wife’s personal story mirrors the political and historical stage where battles may be momentarily forgotten, but the uneasy peace between Britons and Saxons is repeatedly tested and eventually breaks, revealing the on-going quest for power and revenge.
Estranged at the beginning of their journey, Beatrice and Axl try to uncover the mist that clouds their memories. They are both unable and reluctant to remember. Each wants, but also fears, the truth. Still, each endeavours to uncover the past and, in so doing, Beatrice and Axl are drawn closer. Eventually, the love they have for one another enables them to face the last and hardest part of their journey. But before they reach this point, remember what really happened to their son, and confront the truth about their marriage, they must battle their own inner demons. The darkness of deception they have buried, like the uneasy peace between Britons and Saxons, is like a buried giant; it cannot remain underground indefinitely.
Ishiguro is a talented writer. As with many of his other works, he defies simplistic categories, plays with conventions and blends diverse genres. The characters are compelling, but the plot frequently drags and the pace nearly grinds to a halt at several points. While there is conflict and tension, the pacing could be improved so that the tension is more sustained throughout, not just in the key scenes. At times, symbolism and allegory weigh the story down. Overall, the book could have benefitted from further editing. Despite these drawbacks, the book is well worth the read.
This is not just a story about personal amnesia, but about cultural and societal amnesia. It is an unforgettable story that invites readers to re-think human relationships not only between individuals but also between communities. While the cycles of vengeance may not always be broken and peace may not last, building friendships between reluctant allies and lifting the mist of forgetfulness are necessary.