Damn, I knew I should have written this review, as I’d intended, yesterday.
Many years ago I read Ishiguro’s first two books, A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World (the second I remember quite liking), but I’ve read nothing since; meaning my reading of him coincides with him being relatively obscure (this edition claims two of his novels sold over a million copies, which I find difficult to believe, but shows the value of having a film made out of your book). Nonetheless, I’ve always had in mind that he’s one of our best writers – his contribution to one of those Granta anthologies of best young British writers seemed far superior to all the others – and yet, I’ve not been inclined to read anything more by him; because frankly it’s not much of an accolade these days, to be the best writer in these lands.
The Buried Giant on the face of it sounded quite interesting – largely I guess, because he’d set it in Dark Age England, which is an area in which I’ve been recently immersing myself; plus I also had my SF project in mind (it has a quote from Neil Gaiman on the back cover!),
The plot: an old couple, who have difficulty trying to remember the past, decide to leave the warren in which they live to visit their son – though they don’t really remember where he is. On their way they meet a variety of people and weird creatures. The England through which they travel is divided in an uneasy peace between the Britons and the Saxons. In fact, no one can seem to remember the past, because it has become lost in a persistent mist, which is the creation of a dragon living up a mountain. The couple’s journey, along with those they take up travelling with, turns into a quest to slay this dragon and bring back these memories; – but, as we increasingly learn, maybe they don’t want to remember the past.
So what’s it all about really? A meditation, no doubt, on whether it’s better to bury the past, or revisit it – the couple, after all, are happy because they cannot remember events which before have come between them; the population of England are at peace because they don’t recollect past grievances and atrocities. I’d assumed for a long time the dragon too was a metaphor; but no, there really is a dragon. There isn’t a giant though; he is a metaphor; but there are ogres (who reminded me somewhat of the troubling Manga series Attack on Titan).
It’s more thoughtful than the other SF I have read, has better human characters, and yet is at the same time more boring. I wouldn’t say that I struggled to read it (maybe I did, at two-thirds of the way through, have to press myself to go on), but it wasn’t exactly a compelling read. Ishiguro writes in a mannered style; – particularly I found, perhaps more so as the novel went on, the characters’ speech – especially the old couple – is mannered; partly no doubt as an attempt to evoke a different time, or their age; but increasingly I felt annoying (all Ishiguro’s characters in all his books, I suspect, possess this same restraint – I always imagine Ishiguro has the worst of two worlds, the restraint if the British crossed with the restraint of the Japanese). On the whole I wasn’t convinced of the novel’s ultimate worth; it seemed an empty, unsatisfying read; and I can’t see I’ll be reading anything further of his in a hurry; – or any English literary fiction.