Review: The Buried Giant, by Kazou Ishiguro

The Buried GiantSynopsis: “You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…”

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years.

They expect to face many hazards — some strange and other-worldly — but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Title: The Buried Giant
Author: Kazou Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pub Date: 3rd March 2015
Pages: 345
ISBN: 9780571315031


“Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, of something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget.”

A very long time ago, I think it was in 2015, my lovely sister-in-law saw me practically caress this gorgeous edition in a bookstore and she bought it for me later as a surprise present.

This was the first Ishiguro novel I’ve read (trust me to err towards the fantasy story written by a literary novelist!) and I’m of two minds, maybe three, about it.

On the one hand, I love the setting – think of a nostalgically rendered Dark Age, a post-Arthurian Britain resting on a knife’s edge. Where hero’s and monsters and myths are an everyday occurrence. There are ogres, and dragons and pixies (yep, pixies!) as well an ancient Knight of the Round Table, Gawain.

The characters weren’t much to discuss, to be honest. They fell a little flat and the only person of interest was our noble Knight. Even though he was overly-written and eccentric to the point of ridiculousness, he was entertaining, at least!

I also loved the double-role memory and forgetfulness play in the story. On one side holding together the peace of a nation and, on the other, gently nudging it towards the edge of a very large cliff.  The memory of past infidelities, wartime barbarities, a lost son – is it better to forget these things for the sake of contentment? Or to face the truth, no matter how ugly?

You can’t deny Ishiguro’s writing skills, his prose is beautiful and faultless. But the question remains, did I enjoy it?

“I wonder if what we feel in our hearts today isn’t like these raindrops still falling on us from the soaked leaves above, even though the sky itself long stopped raining. I’m wondering if without our memories, there’s nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.” 

The answer is…not so much. Though Ishiguro paints a mystical and interesting world, as a fantasy novel this was too 2D, a pretty picture on a wall rather than a world I could completely immerse myself in.

The most frustrating is that this book has so much potential to be great. There were moments that could have been on-the-edge-of-your-seat, heart-in-your-mouth, WTF-is-happening type passages, but they fell short. It seems fantasy can sometimes become bland and dull when painted with the wrong type of literary brush.

“How can old wounds heal while maggots linger so richly?”

Maybe this book wasn’t for me, but it’s still a well-written novel. The reviews I’ve seen are very mixed (probably the literary readers vs the fantasy ones!). As a reader of both, I can appreciate his prose, but I don’t have to love it.

Sorry Ishiguro, I think you need to add a little more salt and pepper to this fantastical meal.

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