"I'm so full of love I could barely eat"
A Right-Now Moment

Book Note: The Buried Giant

The New York Times gave it a lukewarm review, which I only know because Becky said so. (I'm glad I didn't read it, although after I write this post I probably will.) 

It sparked an argument between Ishiguro and Ursula K. Le Guin (who got annoyed with him for wondering if his readers would just say "this is fantasy?”, as if Ishiguro readers are too smart for genre reading, or as if literary fiction and genre fiction must always be divided into clearly separate categories).

Several of my readerly friends couldn't get through it, or if they did they didn't like it. Le Guin (a writer I highly admire) herself didn't like it.

But I still was anxious to read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Buried Giant. In fact, Downloadknowing that the book had sparked such a debate in literary circles made me want to read it more. After all...I am kind of a book snob. But only against poor writing, cliched characters, and shoddy plots. Not genre (unless it is genre with poor writing, cliched characters, and shoddy plots). I think you can find good and bad writing in any genre, and I don't think that something being labeled "fantasy" (or "science fiction" or "romance" or whatever) means it can't also be literary fiction.

Those are my favorite kind of books, honestly.

So even without the debate I would've read this book. Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is a book that has haunted me since I read it, and I think The Buried Giant will do the same thing.

It tells the story of Axl and Beatrice, an old couple living in post-Arthurian England. The small community where they live—formed as a series of hobbit-esque tunnels in a hill—is just marginally accepting of them, and they eventually decide they will leave it so they can go visit their son.

Axl and Beatrice—as well as most of the population of this version of Britain—are influenced by a mysterious memory problem. Memories come and go, shifting in strange patterns, and often they forget that they've actually forgotten most of their lives. Through this memory fog come just a few memories of their son and some very faint impressions of their younger years, just enough to send them on their quest.

As with most quests, this does not go as smoothly as planned. Axl and Beatrice first encounter a mysterious boatman, and the woman who is tormenting his steps because he did not allow her to cross the water with her husband, when they are taking shelter from a rain storm in a decrepit Roman villa. This is where they learn (or perhaps just remember) the story of the boatman who ferries people to a distant shore and how, on that shore, if a couple has been kind and good enough to each other that their memories are mostly good ones, they will be allowed to stay together.

This story drives the rest of their quest. They want to remember their relationship, even though people remind them that if they remember good things, they'll likely also remember hard things. As they travel through England, they strike up relationships with two knights —one of them a very elderly Sir Gawain—a boy who has had an encounter with ogres, and several other people. Plus pixies, and perhaps the dragon Querig, whose breath is the source of the memory problems.

To write what happens would be to ruin your enjoyment of the novel. Or maybe you'll read it and not love it. But I will write this: it is a slow, thoughtful book. It took me five weeks to finish it, and I read several other books in that time. But I could always pick it up and fall right back into the story. It is a fantasy in the sense of dragons and pixies and ogres, but is more, to my mind, historical. It really isn't even a fantasy at all, in fact. It is instead a story-style meditation on memory, love, forgiveness, history, war, and revenge. And the ending—it broke me right open.

So to answer Ishiguro's question posed theoretically to readers: Yes, I went along with you, even though it seems to be a fantasy. Because it isn't only about a quest and dragons and mysterious tunnels full of human remains. Because having watched someone lose their memory, I am on the side of Axl and Beatrice: if the price of the sweet memories is also the bitter, I will pay it. I want to hold on to everything, because all of it together is what made (and continues to make) me who I am. Without the knowledge gained by memory, who are we?​



"Your father is only your father until one of you forgets." True, and yet not true. I am back on the hold list for this.


I absolutely adored this book too and did not want to put it down the whole time I was reading it. The beautiful writing, the haunting story, it was all perfect for me. I had avoided Ishiguro because I knew his books were sad but now I cannot wait to read more of him.

michelle t

Your last paragraph, you're a memory keeper/scrapper, no? :) You put into words how I feel. That I want to remember all of it, every bit of it.

Anyway, sorry about that, thanks for sharing your opinion about the book. I'm sort of stuck going back and forth between two parenting books. On top of that my attention span isn't what it used to be. But I'll keep this book in mind, as it interests me. Thanks. Michelle t

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