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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant: A novel - Kazuo Ishiguro

If you've read at least two Ishiguro novels, you probably have picked up on how similar they are in tone and theme, yet how different they are in regards to story. They're such quiet stories, yet there's something which lies beneath that keeps a reader not simply engaged, but excited. There are themes of acceptance, memory, and identity. And it all builds slowly until that moment when the hammer drops, shattering the reader's expectations.


Not surprising, A Buried Giant largely follows the same pattern. This time, Ishiguro takes a tour through the world of fantasy. He transports us back to 6th century Britain, in the years following King Arthur's larger-than-life reign. While the focus of the story rests on an old couple making the journey to visit their son, the novel doesn't forget the dragons, pixies, and sword fights of Arthurian lore. As anyone who has read Ishiguro might expect, the author does a masterful job of emulating the speech patterns and concerns of the era, without letting the story get bogged down by these details.


For me, the story lost its momentum about half way through. I was totally invested in the journey of Axl and Beatrice when that was the focus of the story. Despite the introduction of other characters, I still felt like the story was about them. Then there's a shift. The story is still about the couple, but it's no longer just their story. And with the change in focus comes a change in the content—this is no slow-moving period piece, it's a swashbuckling adventure. It's still distinctly Ishiguro, especially in the final pages, but it wasn't Ishiguro at his best. It's a very admirable effort and certainly worthy of praise, but the disconnect that happened left me unconcerned with the outcome of Axl and Beatrice. When the hammer finally hit, I wasn't in tears like I was at the end of Never Let Me Go, touched as I was by Remains of the Day, or even left wondering what the hell had just happened, wanting to reread the entire novel as I did with A Pale View of Hills. A Buried Giant just left me empty. That emptiness was the single most surprising quality of this novel.