Book Review: The Buried Giant

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To walk separately from you, when the ground will let us go as we always did.

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

When I was a child, my mind sustained a variety of imaginary worlds, as most children’s do. One of these imaginary worlds consisted of people living in underground warrens, connected by a network of tunnels, much like rabbits. When I first opened Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and encountered the nature of Axl and Beatrice’s community, I felt both comforted and excited. The physical aspects of Axl and Beatrice’s home was much like the one I had imagined as a child.

Of course, unlike the one in my childhood imagination, Axl and Beatrice’s world is plagued by a variety of problems. Saxons and Britons wage war against each other, diseases sweep villages, and, most importantly, a mist of forgetfulness has settled over the world. Most people are unable to recall even what happened earlier the same day.

The only Ishiguro novel I’d read prior to this was Never Let Me Go. Never Let Me Go also explores the ideas of memory and forgetfulness, mainly through the cloudiness of the narrator, Cathy H.’s memories, and the differences between her recollections and the other characters’. I wouldn’t characterize Never Let Me Go as an exciting novel, but it kept me intrigued.

Similarly, I wouldn’t say The Buried Giant is an exciting novel. Some exciting things do happen in it. There are duels, battles, escapes, and a dragon. But all of this is told in a gentle, quiet way, that downplays even the most exciting aspects of the story. The novel primarily revolves around Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, and this is reflected in the novel’s tone. I would call it a polite novel, with a polite narrator, and polite characters, who, even when threatening each other, are polite to the very core.

Because of this, The Buried Giant is often painstaking to read. What got old real fast was Axl and Beatrice constantly referring to each other as “princess” and “husband”. For two people who supposedly are as intimate and close as two people can be, they are awfully formal with each other.

Much of the novel is dialogue, but none of the characters seem to have distinct personalities. Other than Axl and Beatrice, I didn’t particularly care for the other characters, who mostly seemed like they were there to propel Axl and Beatrice’s plot forward. The plot itself makes a nice read, but I think it could have been accomplished in a far smaller number of pages. I can imagine myself liking this work a lot more if it had been a short story. At the length that it is, it made for a tough read, and failed to captivate me.

YES OR NO?: NO. I wanted to like this book, since it seemed like the perfect blend of fantasy and historical elements for me. However, it failed to hold my attention, and I often found myself bored by it. I did like the ending, but it failed to make up for the boredom I felt in the middle bits.

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