Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro's Exquisitely Good 'The Buried Giant'

I've read most of Ishiguro's novels and enjoyed them immensely. The films of the books have been excellent too.

This new one absolutely joins the parade. It's marvellous.

A major Ishiguro theme is buried evil, the havoc it has reeked, the potential it has to erupt again and the courage needed to face it. In The Buried Giant Ishiguro's fascination with paranormal evil and how integrated with quotidian reality it is, continues. Dragons, ogres, savage pixies and the monster of them all, Querig the she-dragon, populate the landscape and are an integral part of this folkloric tale. But they portend the inevitability and horror of war and the destruction of love, civility, compassion and innocence.

We are in a Tolkien world, with echoes of BeowulfDon Quixote and King Lear. Sir Gawain from King Arthur's round table makes an appearance too, but here he's straight out of Monty Python - an old John Cleese, outrageously tall, skin and bones, an old duffer, bat crazy, whose favourite phrase is 'how dare they!'

In fact there are a lot of old, malingering people in this book, including the two central characters Beatrice and Axl, who are absolutely delightful. Their love for each other is the central charm of the book. Like all the characters Ishiguro has them talking in a stilted, formal English. It's very theatrical and Elizabethan, often beautifully poetic with Shakespearean elegance. The Saxons and the Britons have been at war in the ex-Roman colony of Britannia but are now at peace, albeit a fragile one. It is guarded and cherished by the old and wise. Deep roots of hatred and vengeance lie buried - the Giant in the title - but threaten to break out at any time. 

Ironically it is the young who continue the hatred and relish the near prospect of renewed war and bloodshed. In his last novel, Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro had the young as innocent victims of the old. Here it's the reverse.

There are a few subplots running through the narrative, which are interesting in themselves, but the real power of this well told story is the journey Axl and Beatrice take, on foot, over a few days, up hill and down dale, to meet up with their lost son - who may or may not be real or alive. There is even a Name of the Rose moment when they visit a monastery full of mysterious, plotting monks. 

The ending is intensely moving and profound. 

(Some authors and reviewers have had a bit of a spat about this book - whether fantasy and literature can co-exist; whether its trash can of literary references and elaborate, unnatural dialogue undermines its seriousness, etc - but these people are best ignored. They can barely read.)

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