The Buried Giant

By: Kazuo Ishiguro

In post-Arthurian Britain, the wars that once raged between the Saxons and the Britons have ended in a lasting peace. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly British couple, set off to visit their son, whom they haven’t seen in years and who’s supposed to reside in a nearby village. However, due to a strange mist that causes mass amnesia across the land, they can scarcely remember anything about him. They don’t even know his name. As they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his stoic charge, and an aged knight, Axl and Beatrice slowly begin to remember the dark and troubled past they all share. Does time truly heal all wounds or do the years cause the memories to fester into hatred and distain?

For an author whose works are so highly regarded, I found The Buried Giant barely tolerable. As with all books I read, I began this story eager to learn how the narrative would unfold. But by the time I reached the halfway point, I had to accept that I was in a reading slump. It’s not that the premise of the story was uninteresting otherwise I never would have bought the book. The problem was the sloppy and unrefined execution. 

With nearly constant circular conversations, I often felt that my eyes had accidentally gone back to a previous line I had already read. I would soon realize thought that no, it was the correct line saying the exact same thing as the line before it in a slightly different way. Here’s an example.

They certainly wish this boy dead, mistress. I tried to make them see it wasn’t necessary, even made a solemn promise to take him far away from this country, but no, they don’t listen to me! They won’t risk this boy loose, even with Master Wistan captured or killed, for who’s to say there won’t come some other fellow one day to find this boy. I’ll take him far away, I said, but they fear what may happen and wish him dead.” Page 165.

Now imagine that amplified to a 317-page book. Was this sameness on purpose to drive the points of the book home? Possibly, but it was a poor choice stylistically if so. I believe that if you were to remove the repetitive parts from the book, the length probably would have been cut down by about a third. That’s space that could have been better used by adding more backstory, world-building, and character development. In other words, such a waste. 

On top of the poor writing, the narrative itself made me feel every negative emotion possible. It brought out feelings of depression, anger, bitterness, resentfulness, and disgust. The Buried Giant is not a mood lifter and definitely should not be consumed by those going through a depressive episode. I’ve read my fair share of sad novels and some of them are all time favorites. A story doesn’t need a happy ending to be amazing, but it does need to be constructive. Where The Buried Giant fails is its lack of subtlety and delivery. Kazuo Ishiguro refused to depict humanity as anything other than grudge holding, hateful, war mongers who will deceive for the sake of peace. We can’t escape bitterness and resentment even against loved ones for past wrongs. The only way to heal is to have your memories magically wiped away so you can forget your past traumas and start over with a clean slate. And if you don’t have access to some magical memory wiper (like the real world), well then you’re just stuck this way forever. 

Does that sound like a good time to you? Of course not! I’m depressed as hell after reading this book. The worst part is that I can partially understand where the author is coming from, but would it have killed him to write in some spotlight in the dark world? If the old couple’s love is supposed to be that light, I’m not buying that for a second. 

With a story like this that had so much potential, it’s disappointing how poor the execution turned out. Word of advice to writers, don’t take yourself and your ideas too seriously otherwise your readers aren’t reading a work of fiction, they’re reading your manifesto. 

Overall rating: 2

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