Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2/5)

7 May

This is my third Ishiguro book and I own one more that I plan to read at some point. I’ve noticed that Ishiguro’s ‘thing’ is keeping something hidden from the reader. He doesn’t hide it well, but it’s just far enough out of reach that you start to look into it before the text openly explains what is going on. I’ve liked that in his previous books. Honestly, I didn’t feel like this was by the same author. This book was so different and the ‘thing’ was more subtle and less a key part of the plot. I’m still sorting through my feelings on this one more than a week after I finished it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Goodreads:

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

This book was too layered in meaning for me to enjoy. I started reading it and was thinking of the characters being exactly who they were described to be. These are two Britains traveling to see their son. Knowing Ishiguro, I didn’t think there would be more to it. As they traveled, the people they met confused me. Gawain seemed too old to be a knight and his backstory was mixed. Wistan’s linguistic abilities confused me and I didn’t understand why he was so attached to Edwin. It wasn’t until I started getting ready to write this review and saw other takes on the book that I ever considered what the characters ‘stood for’ and what the setting ‘represented.’ I think if a book is going to be an allegory for a couple growing old, it should work as a story by itself. I didn’t feel this one did.

The characters weren’t credible enough for me. I liked the love between Axl and Beatrice but the way she dismissed her pain and their knack for forgetting their pasts (but not what they’d done since the book started) bothered me. I didn’t think of it as relating to Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age. Edwin seemed to have no purpose to me and seemed like a burden to Axl and Beatrice and later Wisten. I didn’t see the point in him and I never would have thought of him as a stand-in for their son. The people seemed like the caricatures they ended up being and I didn’t like them or connect with them.

Axl was the only character I liked. He was so sweet to Beatrice. He always called her Princess and never got angry. He made decisions that were best for her and always had her interests in mind. He was the kind of husband anyone would want.

My inability to relate to or connect with any of the characters is a big part of why I didn’t like the book. I didn’t care what happened to them. After the final scene, I didn’t sit and think about what had happened to them or bother to look up interpretations of the book. I’m only now looking into that! I was OK with the Arthurian setting but the allegory was too strong for me to connect with the characters.

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole, 2015

I enjoyed the escape from the terrible beast that Gawain, Axl, and Beatrice had. It was after this scene that I started getting confused about timelines so it was the last scene that stuck with me before I was confused. I liked the image of them creeping along in the dark and finding an escape route. It seemed like a good adventure for an Arthurian tale. I did find it a bit inappropriate for their ages, but that was something I could get over.

I really disliked the ending. This might end up in spoilers so best skip down if you don’t want to know that. I was so frustrated that after all the warning’s they’d had, they would still separate with a boatman. I couldn’t believe they’d have no patience to wait or that they’d place trust in a stranger after they’d had bad experiences with strangers earlier in the story. The fog had lifted, they should have remembered what they’d learned but they carried on anyway. It made Querig’s plotline seem pointless.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by David Horvitch. I didn’t like his narration very much. I thought he made Beatrice sound a bit whiney and he didn’t use very different voices for the male characters. It’s fairly often that I find a male narrator whose female voices bother me so this isn’t a surprise but it didn’t help when I was already struggling to stay engaged with the book.

Looking it up now, I see a lot of different interpretations of this story. Axl and Beatrice’s story is about losing one’s memory in old age and reflecting on relationships and their merits. The characters represented themselves and others at different stages of life. It’s all well and good and if I’d known these interpretations, I might like the book better. As it is, I didn’t and I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been couched in a frame narrative like a dream or book, like how The Princess Bride structures the film. As it is, they were too hidden for my tastes.

Writer’s Takeaway: Ishiguro was trying too hard to say something that I didn’t hear him. It was completely lost on me and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I think he strayed too far from what made his previous books enjoyable. I think there’s something to sticking to a ‘type’ of book. I wish there had been a bit more realism in this one.

Not my favorite and not an Ishiguro book I’d recommend. Two out of Five Stars

This book satisfied the ‘Pre 1500’ time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
October 2015- The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro | LovingBooks
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro | Nafka Mina
It’s a Kind of Magic: ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro | Robin’s Books
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro | Obooki’s Obloquy
The Buried Giant | RobertMBall

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