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BOUND TO PLEASE / Ishiguro, adept with his pen, takes up the sword of fantasy

The Japan News

By Yung-Hsiang Kao / Japan News Staff WriterThe Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro

Faber & Faber, 345pp

Is it better to remember or forget? To put it another way, as Kazuo Ishiguro does in “The Buried Giant,” if a sort of “mist” were to make people unable to remember the past, would it be better to find out the source of this mist and extinguish it, or let it be?

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple at the heart of the story, live in long-ago Britain after the death of King Arthur. They make a decision to journey to see their son in another village.

They don’t remember where the village is or why their son is separated from them. Yet they set off alone in a land populated by fellow Britons and Saxons as well as ogres, pixies and dragons.

Ten years after his last novel, “Never Let Me Go,” and six years after the short story collection “Nocturnes,” it may seem as if Ishiguro has decided to become a fantasy writer.

Though “Never Let Me Go” may have had elements of science fiction, at its heart were questions of relationships and love.

Likewise, “The Buried Giant” is not strictly a fantasy, despite its elements drawing on the English tradition from Sir Thomas Malory to J.R.R. Tolkien. Beatrice seeks “special dispensations” based on love, just as the main characters in “Never Let Me Go.”

What is most impressive about “The Buried Giant” is Ishiguro’s ability to use the setting of a familiar genre to create an original world that feels authentic and with relevancy to the contemporary world.

For example, the rivalry between Britons and Saxons he depicts is not only historically based but applicable to any strife between ethnic groups today.

Despite the awards and acclaim that Ishiguro has won in his career, he continues to develop his craft.

“The Buried Giant” is his first novel that is not in the first person, save for a handful of chapters in the second half of the novel. His third-person narration is effective in getting into the thoughts of the characters from each person’s viewpoint while not revealing much about what will happen.

The narrative style also allows him to be brutally descriptive, as when a man dies in a swordfight:

“Axl saw that a serpent, disturbed in the grass by the soldier’s fall, was now sliding out from under the body. Though dark, the creature was mottled with yellows and whites, and as it revealed more of itself, travelling swiftly across the ground, Axl caught the powerful odour of a man’s insides.”

Perhaps certain things are better left forgotten.

“The Buried Giant,” however, like Ishiguro’s other novels, is a memorable tale that speaks to the complexity within each of us.

Where to read

If it’s sunny, sitting on the grass in a park will help as you will be so immersed in the novel that you won’t realize the time without the movement of the sun.

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