The first thing to note is that, more than a year after I read The Buried Giant, I still vividly remember quite a lot of it. And that says a good deal about it. I remember the first scene, I remember several of the key scenes afterwards, and I remember the ending (which I did not like at all).
The second thing to note is that I greatly enjoyed most of the book. It has an incredible, eerie feel to it, a pervasive atmosphere that is impossible to put into words1 The entire novel takes place in a mythical Britain not long after King Arthur’s reign, and the key focus of the novel is the conflict between justice and peace as two peoples attempt to live side-by-side in the aftermath of a brutal, atrocity-filled war. If the truth is revealed, then the war will surely resume and blood will flow once again. But is it just to conceal what has happened to preserve the peace? What is a peace of ignorance really worth? In the midst of this conflict wander an old man and his wife, who want nothing more than to simply visit the son they dimly remember having had at one point, but who–they think–left for another village.
Given the literary emphasis and Ishiguro’s bona fides as a “literary author,” there’s a surprising amount of legitimate action. This conveys a genuine respect on the part of Ishiguro for the fantasy genre. There was controversy before the book was released when Ishiguro (in an interview) asked “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?” Ursula K. Le Guin took issue with this statement as a perceived slight on fantasy, which makes sense. Le Guin has come from the opposite direction, writing first firmly within the sci-fi and fantasy genres before later coming to be accepted as a “serious author.” It warmed my heart to see her sticking up for the hometown genre.
However, Ishiguro replied that “[Le Guin]’s entitled to like my book or not like my book, but as far as I am concerned, she’s got the wrong person. I am on the side of the pixies and the dragons.” I’m willing to take him at his word, especially after reading the book for myself and seeing that he is entirely earnest in his handling of knights and heroes and dragons and monsters and magic.
I was, however, extremely disappointed by the ending. To me, it felt mean-spirited. Initially, it irritated me so much that I docked the book down to 2 or 3 starts, but–more than a year later–I’m inclined to let that pass. Why? Because, as I said, the book has stayed with me with incredible clarity and vividness after a full year’s time. I read well over 100 books in 2015. Very few of them stick with me the way The Buried Giant has, and that says quite a lot. For me, this goes down as another amazing book by Ishiguro, right alongside The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. Honestly, just writing this review makes me want to go and reread it (and I don’t reread a lot of books).