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It has been ten years since Ishiguro’s last novel Never Let Me Go was released. With bated breath the public has awaited this release, The Buried Giant, which promises to be “a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory”. Much like Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro flouts genre categories; here he refuses to let The Buried Giant be considered fantasy, though it is set in Arthurian Britain, in the wake of Roman Rule, and prior to the Anglo-Saxon take over. The medieval backdrop provides a storytelling lexicon in the old medieval sense, which enhances the themes of memory and history present throughout the novel. Most significant to the setting is the presence of dragons and ogres, and in the same land a mysterious mist has descended, erasing the permanence of memories across many villages.
While the mist takes on an amorphous centrality in this novel, the key figures are elderly couple Axl and Beatrice, who undertake a quest to find their son after their recollections become faint from the mist. Along their quest they encounter knights, monks, and mystical creatures; there is a scene in which Axl fights pixies. Axl and Beatrice want desperately to access their memories, to remember the years of love they shared, and to find their son. But as the quest continues, we see it may not be as simple as that.
Despite access to multiple narrators, the reader is held in an oblique position; the mist has altered every character’s memory. Ishiguro has given the reader access to this world through the unreliability of the narrators; each has a view as opaque as the next. This is the first work in which Ishiguro explores the significance of memory on an individual and societal level; for “when is it better to remember, and when is it better to forget?”—a question he posits in a Goodreads interview that also forms the central question of the novel.
If this book were pulled apart for analysis and strong narrative theory applied to it, it would surely yield positive results. But the prose is flat, the plot is slow to unfold, the complexities are fairly uncomplicated, and the enjoyment level is like riding in neutral; you’re going somewhere but nothing is moving you. In many ways Ishiguro is resting on his laurels; symptomatic of his popularity, with two previous books selling over a million copies, his name upon this book may be all it needs.