The Buried Giant
2016 Mythopoeic Award Nominee
2015 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee (Fantasy)
The past is shrouded in a mist. Literally.
Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple living in a post-Arthurian Britain, and they can’t remember anything. All that’s left to them are drifting fragments of disjointed memories and vague feelings. At first, you think that their memory loss has to do with the fact that they’re advanced in years, but later you realize that this is a kind of epidemic. No one one remembers anything for terribly long.
And there is peace throughout the land, as well as domestically, because memory loss = good marriage. For the most part, because one day Axl wakes up one morning and realizes just how in love with his wife he is, he decides it’s time to visit their son, who lives in some nearby village…or is estranged or…maybe dead. Undaunted by a lack of concrete details, Axl and Beatrice start off on their journey. Along the way, they meet a warrior on a quest, evil river pixies, a dragon-bitten boy, ogres, self-mutilating monks, and Sir Gawain.
Yeah, Sir Gawain.
Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is a King Arthur story.
It’s a really unique take on Arthur, though. As it happens, I’ve read a lot of Arthur retellings, because I once took a J-term class focused on King Arthur back in my university days. It was the late 80s, so we watched “Excalibur” and the musical “Camelot” and read the Mabinogion and Mort d’Artur and, as an assignment, any number of modern reinterpretations from C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon.
The Buried Giant is a direct descendant of that fine tradition. If you’re at all into the Arthur myths, it’s well worth the read. As far as Arthur myths go, it’s a rather clever one.
However, I recommend it with a few minor caveats.
The whole novel has a dream-like quality that, for someone like me who isn’t always a fan of high fantasy, actually worked. However, I could see it annoying some readers. For myself, I enjoyed the sense of not quite always knowing exactly what was really happening just under the surface, and that uncertain mingling of metaphor and ‘real life’ action. It had almost a magical realism vibe and I know that can be a real turn-off for some—in fact, that is normally the case for me.
This time, however, the book paid off. I liked the answer to what was causing the memory mist and the solution to it. I felt satisfied, too, with the way that the mystery of the son and the relationship between the old lovers was resolved.
That being said, it was also a slow read for me. It was one of those books that kept expiring from the 3M Library and I’d have to check it out again and again because I’d read a section or two and then wander away from it. I will say that I read the last two-thirds of the book in one day and that paid off. When you drop into it, it’s a very visual, visceral book, but it does require a certain amount of patience before the big ta-da.
I can see how The Buried Giant made the Mythopoeic Award finalists, but I can also see how it didn’t win. A worthwhile read, for sure, however.