The Buried Giant: A novel Hardcover – March 3, 2015
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"The Lost Girls of Devon" by Barbara O'Neal
From the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids comes a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets. | Learn more
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—David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks
“Completely astonishing. I can't think of another writer who keeps finding such new and radically unexpected ways of exploring—and deepening—his lifelong concerns. Which is a way of saying that I can't think of another writer who's so unswervingly serious, as well as impeccable, stripping away every distraction to get to the core of things, as a Beckett might, and attaining in the end an almost unbearable intensity of emotional directness.”
—Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness and The Lady and the Monk
“The Buried Giant does what important books do: It remains in the mind long after it has been read, refusing to leave, forcing one to turn it over and over . . . Ishiguro is not afraid to tackle huge, personal themes, nor to use myths, history and the fantastic as the tools to do it. The Buried Giant is an exceptional novel.”
—Neil Gaiman, The New York Times Book Review
“Ishiguro is a brilliant novelist, a born novelist. . . . Inside his work, you feel it, that thrilling thing: a writer doing something actually different, something actually new. . . . [The Buried Giant] creates an entire field of unspoken meaning, illuminating the kind of elusive truths about love, time, death and memory that other novelists have to strain even to brush. . . . That’s the magic of true art. . . . When one day we send some unmanned capsule into the nameless depths of space to give and account of ourselves, it’s [Ishiguro’s] books I would include on our behalf.”
—Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune
“Ishiguro is one of Britain’s best living novelists . . . Magnificent and heartbreaking . . . Of all writers working in the early 21st century, he will turn out to be the one who persisted—who went on asking questions about what binds people to one another; who said something profound about history, and something unsentimental about love.”
—Gaby Wood, The Telegraph (London)
“The weirdest, riskiest and most ambitious thing he’s published in his celebrated 33-year career.”
—Alexandra Alter, The New York Times
“Ishiguro works this fantastical material with the tools of a master realist. . . . [He] makes us feel its sheer grotesque monstrosity with a force and freshness that have been leached away by legions of computer-generated orcs. . . . He keeps a straight face, but Ishiguro has fun with the swords and sorcery: he’s a lifelong fan of samurai manga and westerns, and some of the action has the feel of a classic showdown scored by Ennio Morricone.”
—Lev Grossman, Time magazine
“Ishiguro is in full genre-occupying mode here, settling an imaginative region, capturing its tropes and conditions, and establishing within it his own peculiar sovereignty. . . . For all that The Buried Giant clothes itself in the armor of chivalric romance and fantasy, it is also subtly using these formal structures to subvert from within the kinds of national mythologies that are so often built around them. . . . Devastating . . . as emotionally ruinous an ending as any I’ve read in a very long time, and it made me circle back to the opening pages, to re-enter the strange mist of this sad and remarkable book.”
—Mark O’Connell, Slate
“[The Buried Giant is] a profound examination of memory and guilt, of the way we recall past trauma en masse. It is also an extraordinarily atmospheric and compulsively readable tale, to be devoured in a single gulp. The Buried Giant is Game of Thrones with a conscience, The Sword in the Stone for the age of the trauma industry, a beautiful, heartbreaking book about the duty to remember and the urge to forget.”
—Alex Preston, The Guardian (London)
“Lifetimes of myth, allegory, and epic discoveries are contained within . . . In this as with Ishiguro’s previous fiction, the mesmerizing prose ensures that the pages will turn swiftly. Without a doubt, Giant is Ishiguro’s most complex book thus far, managing to combine elements of Edenic epic, Roman myth, Arthurian quest, Tolkien fantasy, philosophical ruminations, religious dialectics, literary experimentation, and more to create an exquisitely rendered, albeit disturbing love story set against the unresolved threat of war—past and future both. . . . Ishiguro’s 10-year investment comes to eloquent fruition here. The result is a provocative, multilayered mosaic.”
—Terry Hong, The Christian Science Monitor
“Ishiguro is a master of the uncanny. . . . Few write about the mysteries of the human experience with such grace as Ishiguro, and his prodigious gifts are evident throughout the novel. . . . The Buried Giant transcends the boundaries of a conventional fantasy novel. At its core, it is a tender story about marriage, memory and forgiveness, the tale of an elderly couple who set off to find a half-remembered son. And the questions that emerge in the course of their journey—as they contend with pixies and Saxon warriors, devious boatmen and duplicitous monks, as they begin to recall a past they might be better off forgetting—cut to the heart of the life’s mystery.”
—Michael David Lukas, San Francisco Chronicle
“A spectacular, rousing departure from anything Ishiguro has ever written, and yet a classic Ishiguro story . . . The Buried Giant has the clear ring of legend, as graceful, original and humane as anything Ishiguro has written. . . . All the same, I’ll wager you won’t soon forget this book after turning its last pages. The close, in particular, will haunt.”
—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Yet for all its flights of fantasy and supernatural happenings . . . The Buried Giant is absolutely characteristic, moving and unsettling, in the way of all Ishiguro’s fiction. . . . A novel of imaginative daring that, in its subtleties of tone, mood and reflection, could be the work of no other writer. . . . In the manner of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Ishiguro has created a fantastical alternate reality in which, in spite of the extremity of its setting and because of its integrity and emotional truth, you believe unhesitatingly. . . . Even after you have finished the book, many days later, you find you can’t stop thinking about it.”
—Jason Cowley, Financial Times
“Mr. Ishiguro’s work is never simple. He has always been a trickster, a shape-changer, courageously exploring the novel’s form, and this new book is no exception. His language is plain and clear. But the stories he tells with his clean words are powerful and disturbing. . . . No doubt this book will divide opinion powerfully: but it provokes strong emotions—and lingers long in the mind.”
“The story sweeps us in not through the imagination of its monsters and magic mists, but by a prose style so distinctive that everything it touches, however airy . . . becomes earthly, solid, with an emotional purchase usually reserved for the ‘real.’ . . . This is a novel that does not answer every question it raises about war, love, memory; but it doesn’t have to. It takes us on a journey that is as deep as it is mesmerizing, ogres an’ all.”
—Arifa Akbar, The Independent (London)
“Hallucinatory . . . subtle and complex . . . At the heart of The Buried Giant, luminous amid all the dragons and warring knights, is a deeply affecting portrait of marital love. . . . A power and a strangeness that are, in the Shakespearean sense of the word, weird . . . For all the deconstruction The Buried Giant performs on its manifold sources and inspirations, the ultimate measure of Ishiguro’s achievement is that his novel is more than worthy to take its place alongside them. The quest undertaken by Axl and Beatrice is not merely a search for their son, but one that follows in the footsteps of Sir Gawain, and Tennyson’s King Arthur, and Frodo.”
—Tom Holland, The Guardian (London)
“The prose, as in many of Ishiguro’s novels, is lapidary and beguiling, suggestive of secrets to be disclosed. . . . For Ishiguro, our poet laureate of loss, the mercies of forgetfulness hold the greater fascination . . . The Buried Giant is ultimately a story about long love and making terms with oblivion. It is an eerie hybrid: a children’s fable about old age. In Ishiguro’s novel, as in life, love conquers all—all, that is, but death.”
—Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
“Ishiguro is, as ever, very readable . . . the novel is moving and strangely resonant. I suspect him of being wise, of having a vision that subtly and politely exceeds that of ordinary people . . . Ultimately the novel achieves a tragic synthesis between its various parts that . . . that reverberates powerfully in the mind.”
—Theo Tait, Sunday Times (London)
“What Ishiguro has delivered, after much labour, is a beautiful fable with a hard message at its core . . . there won’t, I suspect, be a more important work of fiction published this year than The Buried Giant. And take note, Peter Jackson. Ishiguro’s fiction makes wonderful films.”
—John Sutherland, The Times (London)
“Kazuo Ishiguro has written his riskiest novel yet. . . . The Buried Giant actually feels very modern—despite all its talk of ogres, warriors, and dragons. It reprises the same themes Ishiguro has dealt with his entire career: deeply flawed people grappling with dueling impulses and loyalties—to their ideals, identities, and nations. . . . These questions of identity and conflict lie at the heart of The Buried Giant, and they are gripping, tangled, and well worth the attention of so talented a novelist. . . . Lush and thrilling, rolling the gothic, fantastical, political, and philosophical into one. In its best moments, the fantasy elements blend with the exploration of memory, identity, and power to significant effect. The Buried Giant may feel very different from Ishiguro’s previous works, but the concerns that lie at its heart have preoccupied him his entire career.”
—Elaine Teng, The New Republic
“Ishiguro is a deft gut-renovator of genres, bringing fresh life and feeling to hollowed-out conventions. . . . It’s a bold departure: highly stylized, alternately stiff and swashbuckling. But the love story at its center shimmers with a mythic and melancholy grace.”
—Boris Kachka, Vulture
“A literary event . . . A story that’s both one couple’s on-the-road tale, and a mystery for a great civilization.”
“Ishiguro may be a master of his craft, but, more than that, he’s a master of quiet subversion. . . . What you see is rarely, if ever, what you get: the writer expects you to dig deeper for the truth.”
—Caroline Goldstein, Bustle
“Just as in Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro takes us into a disconcertingly different world without ever making that world the main focus of attention . . . The Buried Giant tells us that for nations, just as for individuals, there may be some memories so painful and damaging that they are dangerous to face, that some forgetfulness may be necessary . . . He has located this novel so dreamily far away. The storytelling is formal and subtly archaic, the dialogue elaborate and courteous, clearly paying homage to Malory and Le Morte d’Arthur. Yet it is a far more sophisticated narrative than it at first appears, progressively switching its point of view away from Axl with whom we began, to give us two ‘reveries of Gawain’, for example, and then, in a sorrowful final chapter, reaching into the heart of the pair’s own story, revealing their own failings, showing us Axl and Beatrice from the perspective of the failed boatman . . . The Buried Giant . . . reveal itself as a work not just of great originality but peculiar, even hypnotic, beauty: such a late, great extension to Arthurian literature.”
—David Sexton, Evening Standard
“Axl and Beatrice’s adventures . . . grow in urgency yet never sacrifice the mood of quiet, elegiac pessimism that has always characterized Mr. Ishiguro’s writing—and that makes his novels strangely both melancholic and soothing. . . . For all its fantastical trappings, The Buried Giant is a simple and powerful tale of love, aging and loss—no radical departure for this splendid writer but another excellent novel all the same.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“A lyrical, allusive (and elusive) voyage into the mists of British folklore by renowned novelist Ishiguro. . . . The premise of a nation made up of amnesiac people longing for meaning is beguiling . . . Ishiguro is a master of subtlety; as with Never Let Me Go he allows a detail to slip out here, another there, until we are finally aware of the facts of the matter, horrible though they may be. . . . Lovely: a fairy tale for grown-ups, both partaking in and departing from a rich literary tradition.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“It’s a sad, elegiac story . . . A dreamy journey . . . Easy to read but difficult to forget.”
—Lydia Millet, Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ishiguro was described as ‘a master craftsman’ by Margaret Atwood, and he is every inch that throughout this book, from the self-confidence and certainty of the slow start, through to the final, profound and very moving, pages’.
—Emily Hourican, Irish Independent
“Ishiguro’s story is a deceptively simple one, for enfolded within its elemental structure are many profound truths, including its beautiful and memorable portrait of a long-term marriage and its subtle commentary on the eternity of war, all conveyed in the author’s mesmerizing prose.”
—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
“Tangled and satisfying . . . [Ishiguro’s] novels have for the last two decades frustrated expectations, and his decision to venture into the realm of legend this time is of a piece with the risks he’s been taking all along. . . . Ishiguro’s novels dramatize quests for self-knowledge, and though The Buried Giant . . . may be his most exotic work . . . it may also be his most direct assault on the question.”
—Christian Lorentzen, Bookforum
“Part of the brilliance of this novel is that it can be read at face value and enjoyed . . . or it can be read deep, deeper, and deeper still, until the reader begins scrutinizing the words not on the pages as intensely as each description and every scrap of dialog.”
—Betty Scott, Books & Whatnot
“The world’s greatest living novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro, has a new book out. It is a masterpiece.”
“A novelist of unparalleled distinction. The style is elegant, sparse, non-archaic and, as with Ishiguro’s other works, it accumulates as you progress, until you are mesmerised by the agony of his characters. It is a bold, sorrowful, brilliant and unyielding book. The journey might be imaginary, yet it is existentially real, and that is its great beauty and strength.”
—Joanna Kavenna, Prospect
“A new novel from Ishiguro, his first in 10 years, is quite possibly the literary event of 2015. . . . The Buried Giant is another thought-provoking literary masterpiece.”
—Alice O’Keeffe, The Bookseller
“This book is a love story, an adventure story, a mystery tale and an allegory. It’s also an unforgettable book about forgetting. . . . Once you have read this book you will want to read it again.”
—Erich Mayer, Publishing ArtsHub (Australia)
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Hardcover : 317 pages
- ISBN-10 : 030727103X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307271037
- Product Dimensions : 6.41 x 1.13 x 9.56 inches
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st Edition (March 3, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #220,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The Buried Giant is an ideal example of what rich, meaningful, challenging literary fantasy can do.
It's reminiscent of Ishiguro's own work (Never Let Me Go similarly exemplifies the potential of literary science fiction) but also of the philosophical, allegorical, character-driven fantasy of Mervyn Peake, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, and Margo Lanagan (whose amazing Tender Morsels is also a must-read), among others. Imagine Wolfe's Wizard Knight series with its Arthurian setting and unpredictability but with elderly protagonists, a smaller cast, and a focus on memory (and how it can provide meaning and also create pain--for individuals and nations) and you'll have a good picture of what to expect from The Buried Giant.
Literal events are comprehensible with some effort (despite shifting points of view and breaks in chronology as characters start stories and only later explain the events leading up to them), but the novel leaves open profound questions about love, war, violence, and memory. It's also consistently beautiful and engaging at the sentence level--unlike in much generic fantasy (which sometimes presents elaborate worlds and plots but falls flat in emotion, dialogue, and characterization), characters each speak and act in completely distinct ways, and there is wit and meaningful, often moving emotions in the smallest incidents. The novel is more about its characters and themes than its plot, and it isn't dependent on lots of things happening, but by the end, the lives of the characters, and the shape of their world, are indeed fundamentally changed.
Unfortunately, books like this often disappoint the two groups of readers who give them a chance: readers of realistic literary fiction, who are turned off that it's fantasy, which they foolishly see as subliterary (even though most of the history of literature before the development of realism actually consists of what we'd now consider fantasy, and the kind of primarily commercial fantasy thought to define the genre is merely an invention of the last few decades), and readers of generic/commercial fantasy, whose conventional expectations (a standard quest, action, completely clear storytelling, an enormous amount of world-building, etc.) will be frustrated by the novel's literary style and focus on character and theme.
But for those who can appreciate literary fantasy (my own favorite form of literature), it will be magical--the kind of book to read and reread and give to others in the hopes they will feel the same.
( I went on to read some of the author's other works: they're quite different, both from this and really, from each other: but just as skilfully written! I now have a new author to follow)
Don't get me wrong. It's beautifully written, yes, he's a master writer, no doubt about that. But the book is a bit of a bore, largely because it is slow-paced and so full of clichés. It's an allegory, it's a fable, yes, but I'm very tired of dragons and pixies and mysterious illnesses and mists that bring memory loss. Terribly banal descriptions of post-Arthurian Britain, a dark, muddy medieval time that is tiresomely predictable. As to the dialogues, well, totally unrealistic, stilted, uninspired. Old Axl calls his wife "princess" every single time he addresses her, and by the end of the book, you feel like screaming STOP!
As to the deep "message"the author is out to convey, in a way, he doesn't do such a bad job of it. First he clearly confuses his readers and I think that is rather interesting (I wonder whether he does it on purpose). I've been looking at reviews here, and some are quite intriguing, seeing it as a tale of love between two octogenarians afflicted with Alzheimer's, others seeing it as a philosophical reflection on the roots of violence and war. The principle that Ishiguro is out to illustrate is clear enough: People live in an uneasy peace with each other largely because they don't think about (or don't remember) the wrongs they've endured in the past. The "buried giant" is made up of past hatred, and when the "mist" that makes people forget about such dark and terrible things starts to lift, the giant rises again, expect war and death to return!
It makes for an interesting political theory. Certainly Hitler came to power because Germany felt wronged by the outcome of World War I, in "Mein Kampf" he stirred up memories and called for revenge. So, yes, I can certainly "buy" this idea. But is a long fantasy novel the best way to convey this theory? I'm not sure. On one level, it works, on another it doesn't, largely because the plot is boring and as noted by many reviewers here, characters are one-dimensional, it's hard to get emotionally involved in this book...
Will I read another Ishiguro book? Yes, I will. I'm still undecided whether this is an author who deserves the Nobel, maybe he does after all...Because, in spite of all the shortcomings of The Buried Giant, this is a book that is unusual, it's not like any other novel you've read and it certainly isn't a "normal" fantasy, it doesn't fit into the genre. And, when you've finished reading, it stays with you, it forces you to ask yourself questions, to try and understand it - particularly the end, which is totally unexpected.
Top reviews from other countries
So I actually found it very difficult if not impossible to engage with the players. I say players because elements of it reminded me of those old computer games called something like ‘adventure quest’ , where you had to ask the right questions to get the right answers. Only it took the whole book for them to ask the right questions.
At the end I found myself admiring the quality of the writing, the construction of the plot but totally missing what the purpose of the book was. I was astonished by the rave reviews and wondered if there was another version of the book I had not been allowed to read.
Did I understand it? Was I missing something that other people could see? I don't know, I just know that I put it down for several days and when I did pick it up it was with a sigh and wondering what was going on outside my window.
I did persevere, however, and when I reached the end, waiting for the lights to switch on and make it all worth it, I gave my biggest sigh and returned to the window. An anti-climax to say the least.
Even the dragon didn't feature in the way I had hoped. So would I recommend this book? Probably not but maybe I just didn't get it.
Superficially, it is a fireside tale, initially narrated in the voice of a storyteller. Axl and Beatrice are a margialised, elderly couple whose community will not even allow them a candle. One day they decide to go on a journey to find a son they can only just remember. Along the way, they pass through a world that never was, apart from the fragments we retain today in old manuscripts and tales.
This soon becomes an exploration of an ancient Britain made from dreams, hardly defined at all. Even then, its landscapes and people could have been made more generic. By rooting the story in the Dark Ages and in Arthurian myth, Ishiguro weighs it down and it struggles to lift itself above its own references. Other reviewers have mentioned Tolkien as a possible influence, pointing to his essay 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' It may be better to cite Tolkien's short allegorical story. 'Leaf by Niggle' where an insignificant artist goes on a different journey of his own. I suspect that tale, which combines the mundane with the metaphysical, is a better reference point.
Where Ishiguro adds a modicum of detail to his story it often seems oddly drawn and tugs at the attention in a way that creates a feeling of misplaced strangeness. Axl and Beatrice's encounter with a boatman and an old woman in the rain-drenched ruins of a Roman villa is a good example. The meeting is frightening, but only partly explained and the effect is distracting. It reminded me of films like 'Spirited Away' where a character will suddenly make an oblique statement, or perform what appears to be a contextually meaningless act. The cultural reference behind the moment is lost on us and we feel uncomfortable. There's a disadvantage to creating these seeming discontinuities in the narrative, because as we parse the events and fail to make complete sense of them, the coherence of the tale suffers.
In itself, this would not be enough to spoil the book. However, taken with the Arthurian references which, for me, never seem completely right or mature enough; the way key information is delivered in oddly mannered speech by characters, and a plodding questing journey through forests, gloomy tunnels and sinister monasteries, the storyline sometimes feels contrived and clunky. At one point I imagined I was playing an old text-based adventure game. 'You are in the pit. The portcullis is raised: a hideous animal runs at you from the darkness.'
In contrast, the fight scenes are pure Kurosawa. Nothing much seems to happen and then, suddenly, there is bloody death. These economical moments are probably. - and frustratingly - the most convincing pieces of description in the novel.
The book comes alive right at the end, as the mist lifts from the minds of Axl and Beatrice. Everything suddenly seems so much clearer, more mundane and tragic. We are back in a recognisable world and it is a cynical one, full of predictability and sorrow. The final paragraphs hammer the point home and they are also very moving.
It is this ending that makes the book worth reading. Like a master caligrapher, Ishiguro sweeps his brush over a plain surface in order to create something that leaps into the mind in a wonderful moment of recognition. The errors I feel he commits are to leave us waiting too long and to make his paper too watermarked with a mixture of cultural references that lead our thoughts astray before his true artistry appears.
It is quite extraordinary that a significant number of readers and critics have rejected this book on the basis that it is a fantasy novel – fairly low Arthurian fantasy at that. How can you be snobby about Kazuo Ishiguro? The man is a genius!
Still, it is there loss, because The Buried Giant is both brilliantly written literary fiction and one hell of a story. This is one of the best portrayals of married love that I have ever read, and the central characters are utterly convincing. And, of course, this is Ishiguro, and nobody does heartbreak better than he.
This book takes you on an extraordinary adventure then brings you to somewhere you never expected but always should have. The end of the book kept me thinking for days and is deeply touching. You owe it to yourself to read this masterpiece.