The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2015)

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber 2015)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber 2015)

The 2017 Literature Nobel Prize is awarded to the writer Kazuo Ishiguro. He was born in Japan in 1954 and moved to England at the age of five with his parents.

I previously reviewed his work “The Buried Giant” on this blog. An article on the occasion of his winning the prize will follow.


Five characters are looking for their memories in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro,

A magic mist hangs over the land. It pollutes the air, puts people in a twilight state and ensures that they no longer have memories.

The beginning of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel “The Buried Giant” is set in England during the 6th century BC and the mode of storytelling varies from fantastic literature to historical literary novel. In the course of more than 400 pages it becomes apparent that the novel is also a literary meditation, a meandering reflection on remembering and forgetting. It ponders on the necessity of repression for coexistence and ruminates on the loneliness of dying.

Ishiguro’s mastery over a simple plot of a dense network of enigma, symbolism, and complexity made the journey or the exploration in the novel the basis of both the human psyche and community.

The core of the story told by the British writer of Japanese origin is an aging British couple, Axl and Beatrice, who leaves their village to visit their son, who is said to live only a few villages away. But where exactly, they have forgotten because of the mist. They also cannot recall why the boy then went away. On their way, they meet the enigmatic warrior Wistan, Gawain, a knight of the Round Table, and a strange boy, Edwin, carrying a fatal wound on his stomach. From the journey to her son, they forge a joint mission to kill a bestial dragon whom they find out is responsible for the impenetrable veil of forgetfulness. The nearer the small group comes to the dragon, the more clearly it becomes apparent that none is who or what they first seem to be – not Gawain, not Wistan, not Edwin; not even the love the couple held for for each other.

In the beginning of the story, an old acquaintance, asked Beatrice, “How would you, and your husband, prove your love to each other, if you no longer have memories of your common past?” At the end of the novel Axl, doubts his wife: “Can it be that our love would never have grown so strong over the years, had not the mist taken our many memories?”

In this way he formulates the basic conflict of the novel, which is structured as a history: how necessary is forgetting, the obliteration of memory, the individual and the community? It is not too of a revelation to say that the mist also signifies and bears peace for the country and the people; one can forget the reason that had sown discord and hatred – and at the same time, what meant as an existential threat to Axl and Beatrice and their love.

Thus, it is clear that there are great, universal themes that Ishiguro’s novel deals with. And he takes his time in exposing this, a considerable amount of of time. In the initial external focalization, that is, without giving us an insight into the thinking or feeling of the characters, the narrator describes actions and dialogues without explaining or commenting. Thus, the text completely leaves the reader with a sense of interpretation.This is an exciting technique and it would work if the great mystery that is supposedly in space is not very predictable; if not the basic conflict would be very banal and the final dissolution almost kitschy. In the last third of the text a frequent change of perspective comes into play, which breaks the aesthetic homogeneity of the novel: suddenly Gawain speaks in a kind of inner monologue, suddenly we get the happenings from Edwin’s perspective and finally from a ferryman’s mediation. On the one hand, Ishiguro admits them only as individual figures, which is inconsistent. The forgetting or the degree of amnesia is not the same for all the figures, so Wistan can well remember whom he hated and why. All of this makes the novel look textured, not quite thought out, and is not consistent with its structural nature.

Ishiguro’s style recalls the great Japanese novelists of the twentieth century, the so-called “third new post-war generation,” who have taken to allegorically process historical material to illustrate basic human problems. “The Buried Giant” is such an allegorical approach to history, which takes a dateable historical conflict as a slide to devote itself to the central questions of existence by the means of a fantastic and associative narrative.

Ishiguro had already chosen similar approaches to urgent questions in “Remains of the Day” and “Never let me go”, but he had managed to link the narrative film organically with the existential questions, “The buried giant” ultimately failed. The historical fundamental conflict remains arbitrary, interchangeable, and a mere motive for action, the figures in their psychological development manageable and the tension curve of history flat. Thus the reader, after reading, will remain slightly unsatisfied, and driven into a somewhat diffused sea of ​​questions, whose answers appear schematically on the horizon, but unapproachable and disappears in the mist.

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