“If forced at knife-point to choose my favourite Ishiguro novel, I’d opt for The Buried Giant. It uses the tropes of fantasy to set up a smoke-screen which the book then, by twists and turns, dispels. This reveal gives the book a shadow-plot, and layers of mystery . . . An ideas-enabler, a metaphor-animator.”
—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 Economist
“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 rea...
You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated. There were instead miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland. Most of the roads left by the Romans would by then have become broken or overgrown, often fading into wilderness. Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land. The people who lived nearby—one wonders what desperation led them to settle in such gloomy spots—might well have feared these creatures, whose panting breaths could be heard long before their deformed figures emerged from the mist. But such monsters were not cause for astonishment. People then would have regarded them as everyday hazards, and in those days there was so much else to worry about. How to get food out of the hard ground; how not to run out of firewood; how to stop the sickness that could kill a dozen pigs in a single day and produce green rashes on the cheeks of children.
In any case, ogres were not so bad provided one did not provoke them. One had to accept that every so often, perhaps following some obscure dispute in their ranks, a creature would come blundering into a village in a terrible rage, and despite shouts and brandishings of weapons, rampage about injuring anyone slow to move out of its path. Or that every so often, an ogre might carry off a child into the mist. The people of the day had to be philosophical about such outrages.
In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them. I would say this couple lived an isolated life, but in those days few were “isolated” in any sense we would understand. For warmth and protection, the villagers lived in shelters, many of them dug deep into the hillside, connecting one to the other by underground passages and covered corridors. Our elderly couple lived within one such sprawling warren—“building” would be too grand a word—with roughly sixty other villagers. If you came out of their warren and walked for twenty minutes around the hill, you would have reached the next settlement, and to your eyes, this one would have seemed identical to the first. But to the inhabitants themselves, there would have been many distinguishing details of which they would have been proud or ashamed.
I have no wish to give the impression that this was all there was to the Britain of those days; that at a time when magnificent civilisations flourished elsewhere in the world, we were here not much beyond the Iron Age. Had you been able to roam the countryside at will, you might well have discovered castles containing music, fine food, athletic excellence; or monasteries with inhabitants steeped in learning. But there is no getting around it. Even on a strong horse, in good weather, you could have ridden for days without spotting any castle or monastery looming out of the greenery. Mostly you would have found communities like the one I have just described, and unless you had with you gifts of food or clothing, or were ferociously armed, you would not have been sure of a welcome. I am sorry to paint such a picture of our country at that time, but there you are.
To return to Axl and Beatrice. As I said, this elderly couple lived on the outer fringes of the warren, where their shelter was less protected from the elements and hardly benefited from the fire in the Great Chamber where everyone congregated at night. Perhaps there had been a time when they had lived closer to the fire; a time when they had lived with their children. In fact, it was just such an idea that would drift into Axl’s mind as he lay in his bed during the empty hours before dawn, his wife soundly asleep beside him, and then a sense of some unnamed loss would gnaw at his heart, preventing him from returning to sleep.
Perhaps that was why, on this particular morning, Axl had abandoned his bed altogether and slipped quietly outside to sit on the old warped bench beside the entrance to the warren in wait for the first signs of daylight. It was spring, but the air still felt bitter, even with Beatrice’s cloak, which he had taken on his way out and wrapped around himself. Yet he had become so absorbed in his thoughts that by the time he realised how cold he was, the stars had all but gone, a glow was spreading on the horizon, and the first notes of birdsong were emerging from the dimness.
He rose slowly to his feet, regretting having stayed out so long. He was in good health, but it had taken a while to shake off his last fever and he did not wish it to return. Now he could feel the damp in his legs, but as he turned to go back inside, he was well satisfied: for he had this morning succeeded in remembering a number of things that had eluded him for some time. Moreover, he now sensed he was about to come to some momentous decision—one that had been put off far too long—and felt an excitement within him which he was eager to share with his wife.
Inside, the passageways of the warren were still in complete darkness, and he was obliged to feel his way the short distance back to the door of his chamber. Many of the “doorways” within the warren were simple archways to mark the threshold to a chamber. The open nature of this arrangement would not have struck the villagers as compromising their privacy, but allowed rooms to benefit from any warmth coming down the corridors from the great fire or the smaller fires permitted within the warren. Axl and Beatrice’s room, however, being too far from any fire had something we might recognise as an actual door; a large wooden frame criss-crossed with small branches, vines and thistles which someone going in and out would each time have to lift to one side, but which shut out the chilly draughts. Axl would happily have done without this door, but it had over time become an object of considerable pride to Beatrice. He had often returned to find his wife pulling off withered pieces from the construct and replacing them with fresh cuttings she had gathered during the day.
This morning, Axl moved the barrier just enough to let himself in, taking care to make as little noise as possible. Here, the early dawn light was leaking into the room through the small chinks of their outer wall. He could see his hand dimly before him, and on the turf bed, Beatrice’s form still sound asleep under the thick blankets.
He was tempted to wake his wife. For a part of him felt sure that if, at this moment, she were awake and talking to him, whatever last barriers remained between him and his decision would finally crumble. But it was some time yet until the community roused itself and the day’s work began, so he settled himself on the low stool in the corner of the chamber, his wife’s cloak still tight around him.
He wondered how thick the mist would be that morning, and if, as the dark faded, he would see it had seeped through the cracks right into their chamber. But then his thoughts drifted away from such matters, back to what had been preoccupying him. Had they always lived like this, just the two of them, at the periphery of the community? Or had things once been quite different? Earlier, outside, some fragments of a remembrance had come back to him: a small moment when he was walking down the long central corridor of the warren, his arm around one of his own children, his gait a little crouched not on account of age as it might be now, but simply because he wished to avoid hitting his head on the beams in the murky light. Possibly the child had just been speaking to him, saying something amusing, and they were both of them laughing. But now, as earlier outside, nothing would quite settle in his mind, and the more he concentrated, the fainter the fragments seemed to grow. Perhaps these were just an elderly fool’s imaginings. Perhaps it was that God had never given them children.
You may wonder why Axl did not turn to his fellow villagers for assistance in recalling the past, but this was not as easy as you might suppose. For in this community the past was rarely discussed. I do not mean that it was taboo. I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as that which hung over the marshes. It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past—even the recent one.
To take an instance, one that had bothered Axl for some time: He was sure that not so long ago, there had been in their midst a woman with long red hair—a woman regarded as crucial to their village. Whenever anyone injured themselves or fell sick, it had been this red-haired woman, so skilled at healing, who was immediately sent for. Yet now this same woman was no longer to be found anywhere, and no one seemed to wonder what had occurred, or even to express regret at her absence. When one morning Axl had mentioned the matter to three neighbours while working with them to break up the frosted field, their response told him that they genuinely had no idea what he was talking about. One of them had even paused in his work in an effort to remember, but had ended by shaking his head. “Must have been a long time ago,” he had said.
Excerpted from THE BURIED GIANT by Kazuo Ishiguro. Copyright © 2015 by Kazuo Ishiguro. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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