The Buried Giant

Introduction

The Buried Giant is a fantasy novel by Nobel Prize-winning British writer Kazuo Ishiguro, published in March 2015.[1][2]

The book was nominated for the 2016 World Fantasy Award for best novel, and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature. It was also placed sixth in the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.[3] The book has been translated into French, German and Spanish as Le géant enfoui, Der begrabene Riese and El gigante enterrado respectively.[3]

Background

The Buried Giant took ten years to write, longer than Ishiguro had anticipated. Speaking at the Cheltenham Book Festival in 2014, he said his wife, Lorna MacDougall, had rejected an early draft of the book, saying "this won't do ... there's no way you can carry on with this, you'll have to start again from the beginning".[4] Ishiguro added that, at the time, he had been surprised by her comments because he had been pleased with his progress so far.[4] He shelved the novel and wrote a short story collection, Nocturnes (2009).[2] It was six years before Ishiguro returned to The Buried Giant, and, following his wife's advice, he proceeded to "start from scratch and rebuild it from the beginning".[2][4]

Ishiguro's inspiration for The Buried Giant came from the 14th-century Arthurian chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He had wanted to write about collective memory and the way societies cope with traumatic events by forgetting. He ruled out modern historic settings because they would be too realistic and interpreted too literally. The poem about Sir Gawain solved Ishiguro's problem: "this kind of barren, weird England, with no civilization ... could be quite interesting".[2] He proceeded to research life in England around that time, and discovered, "[t]o my delight ... nobody knows what the hell was going on. It's a blank period of British history".[2] Ishiguro filled in the blanks himself and this led to the novel's fantasy setting. For the book's title, he sought his wife's help. But after many discarded ideas they found it near the end of the novel's text. Ishiguro explained, "The giant well buried is now beginning to stir. And when it wakes up, there's going to be mayhem".[2]

Plot summary

The novel is set immediately after Arthurian Britain, where Britons live alongside Saxons. The story begins with Axl and Beatrice, an elderly Briton married couple deciding to visit their son in a nearby village, despite remembering very little of him. Axl observes that everyone seems to have problems with memory. On their first night of travel, the couple stay at a Saxon village which has come under attack by ogres. Men have been killed, and a boy, Edwin, has been abducted. A visiting Saxon warrior, Wistan, successfully rescues Edwin and kills the attackers, although Edwin receives a wound, believed by the Saxons to be an ogre bite. The community wants to kill Edwin, but he is rescued by Wistan, who joins Axl and Beatrice on their journey with a view to leaving Edwin at the couple's son's village.

Axl and Beatrice decide to visit a nearby monastery to seek advice from Jonus, a wise monk. En route, the four travelers meet Sir Gawain, nephew of the now-dead King Arthur. Gawain reveals that his mission is to slay the "she-dragon", Querig. Soldiers loyal to the Briton Lord Brennus arrive and state that Wistan's true mission is to kill Querig, which angers Gawain. Gawain and the soldiers depart and the four arrive at the monastery, where Jonus reveals that the population's forgetfulness is due to a "mist" from Querig's breath.

While at the monastery, Brennus soldiers, summoned by Gawain, arrive and attack Wistan. Another monk shows Axl, Beatrice and Edwin an underground passage to safety, where Gawain reveals himself and states that the passage is inhabited by a beast, and that the monks want the three dead. Gawain kills the "demon dog", and explains that Edwin was bitten by a small dragon kept by the ogres, which will lead Edwin, and Wistan, to Querig. After escaping the monastery, Axl and Beatrice continue their journey alone, and Edwin returns to the monastery to rescue Wistan. Gawain heads into the mountains where Querig resides, and reminisces that during a huge battle between Briton and Saxon, King Arthur had ordered Merlin to cast a spell on Querig, turning her breath into a mist which suppresses memories. Peace descended on the land as the combatants forgot that they were enemies.

Axl and Beatrice are attacked by pixies and flee into the mountains, where they meet Gawain. When Wistan and Edwin arrive, Gawain reluctantly agrees to show the way to Querig's lair. He reveals that he is in fact Querig's protector, since it is Querig's breath that allows Saxon and Briton to live side by side. Gawain and Wistan battle, and Wistan kills Gawain. Wistan then decapitates Querig, already old and unable to move. Before leaving of the elderly couple, Wistan reveals that he will raise Edwin to be a vengeful Saxon warrior without pity. He says that "the giant, once well buried, now stirs";[5] the mist will dissipate, memories will return, and war will break out with Saxons slaughtering Britons to avenge the Britons' massacre of Saxon women, children and elderly.

In the final chapter, Beatrice and Axl have recovered their memories. Their son died of the plague. Estranged by Beatrice's adulterous affair, Axl refused to allow Beatrice to visit his grave. A ferryman offers to take the couple to an island where they can see their son, but they must first prove their love to live together on the island. The ferryman questions the couple separately, and assures them that they will be allowed to live together, but insists that he ferry Beatrice first, leaving Axl behind. Axl reluctantly accepts this decision, fearing that the boatman is separating them.

Reception

The Buried Giant received generally positive reviews from critics.[6] Not all critics praised the novel, however.[7] James Wood writing for The New Yorker criticized the work, saying that "Ishiguro is always breaking his own rules, and fudging limited but conveniently lucid recollections."[8]

British author and journalist Alex Preston was much more positive in The Guardian, writing:[9]

Focusing on one single reading of its story of mists and monsters, swords and sorcery, reduces it to mere parable; it is much more than that. It is a profound examination of memory and guilt, of the way we recall past trauma en masse. It is also an extraordinarily atmospheric and compulsively readable tale, to be devoured in a single gulp. The Buried Giant is Game of Thrones with a conscience, The Sword in the Stone for the age of the trauma industry, a beautiful, heartbreaking book about the duty to remember and the urge to forget.

Audiobook

In 2015, Random House Audio released an audiobook version of the novel, read by David Horovitch.

References
  1. ^ Sutherland, John (21 February 2015). "The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro". The Times. Retrieved 31 January 2018. (Subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Alter, Alexandra (19 February 2015). "For Kazuo Ishiguro, 'The Buried Giant' Is a Departure". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  3. ^ a b "The Buried Giant". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 16 December 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Furness, Hannah (4 October 2014). "Kazuo Ishiguro: My wife thought first draft of The Buried Giant was rubbish". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
  5. ^ Ishiguro 2015, p. 241.
  6. ^ "Bookmarks reviews of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro". LitHub. Retrieved 6 October 2017. 
  7. ^ Ulin L., David (27 February 2015). "In Ishiguro's 'The Buried Giant,' memory draws a blank". LA Times. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Wood, James. "The Uses of Oblivion". Retrieved 31 January 2018. 
  9. ^ Preston, Alex. "The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – review: 'Game of Thrones with a conscience'". Retrieved 7 December 2017. 
Works cited
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo (2015). The Buried Giant (e-book ed.). London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-31505-5. 
External links
  • Official website
  • The Buried Giant at Random House

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