Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Finished on: 15 February 2017
Where did I get this book: A present from my mum
I recently watched the 2016 film remake of Swallows and Amazons. The book was a childhood favourite in my family. And controversially, we probably loved the 1974 film version even more than we loved Arthur Ransome’s classic book.
But the 2016 remake is shocking. It spectacularly misses the magic, and the point, of everything. My friend Cath summed it up: “It’s like it was adapted by someone who didn’t like the book.”
In the same vein, The Buried Giant is a fantasy adventure story. Which reads like it’s written by someone who doesn’t like fantasy adventure stories.
This is my first Ishiguro, but I understand he is somewhat promiscuous with his literary genres. Maybe fantasy adventure was just next on his list. But why pick a genre if you’re not going to commit to it? It would’ve been great if he had developed and built upon the heritage of the grand quest narrative. It’s fine to do new and interesting things. As long as you do so with an understanding of what has come before, and with a bit of respect. It may not be considered the most highbrow of writing traditions, but it does still have a long and well-loved pedigree.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I am a huge reader of fantasy adventure, as I’m not. But I would rate The Lord Of The Rings as one of the most wonderful reading experiences of my life. And I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated that Ishiguro seems almost embarrassed to be writing in the same tradition.
There is no doubt that there’s some brilliant stuff going on in The Buried Giant. An exploration of whether it is better to forget about wrongdoings, and by extension forgive, on both a grand country-wide, and an intimate within-a-marriage, scale. Ishiguro also writes beautifully on how much of our identity is tied up in our memories, and how much is inherently part of who we are, even when we remember almost nothing.
The main characters making the long journey described in the book are an old married couple, Beatrice and Axl. While their relationship does have an annoyingly sexist dynamic, the book is strongest when exploring its themes through the lens of their marriage. But I do wonder why their story, and the questions thrown up by the old couple’s forgetfulness, are shoehorned into a genre its creator doesn’t seem comfortable with. We hear about an ogre here, encounter a dragon there, only to move on swiftly and awkwardly with a sense that Ishiguro doesn’t know what to do with them.
I would definitely be curious to read more of his books. Much of the writing is gorgeous, and I get the impression that The Buried Giant is far from typical of his output.
A bizarre, often beautiful but often frustrating book.