The Buried Giant
UK first-edition cover
|Set in||Sub-Roman Britain|
The book was nominated for the 2016 World Fantasy Award for best novel, and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature. It was also placed sixth in the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. The book has been translated into French, German, Spanish and Italian as Le géant enfoui, Der begrabene Riese, El gigante enterrado and Il gigante sepolto respectively.
The Buried Giant took ten years to write, longer than Ishiguro had anticipated. Speaking at the Cheltenham Book Festival in 2014, he said his wife, Lorna MacDougall, had rejected an early draft of the book, saying "this won't do ... there's no way you can carry on with this, you'll have to start again from the beginning". Ishiguro added that, at the time, he had been surprised by her comments because he had been pleased with his progress so far. He shelved the novel and wrote a short story collection, Nocturnes (2009). It was six years before Ishiguro returned to The Buried Giant, and, following his wife's advice, he proceeded to "start from scratch and rebuild it from the beginning".
Ishiguro's inspiration for The Buried Giant came from the 14th-century Arthurian chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He had wanted to write about collective memory and the way societies cope with traumatic events by forgetting. He ruled out modern historic settings because they would be too realistic and interpreted too literally. The poem about Sir Gawain solved Ishiguro's problem: "this kind of barren, weird England, with no civilization ... could be quite interesting". He proceeded to research life in England around that time, and discovered, "[t]o my delight ... nobody knows what the hell was going on. It's a blank period of British history". Ishiguro filled in the blanks himself and this led to the novel's fantasy setting. For the book's title, he sought his wife's help. But after many discarded ideas they found it near the end of the novel's text. Ishiguro explained, "The giant well buried is now beginning to stir. And when it wakes up, there's going to be mayhem".
Following the death of King Arthur, Saxons and Britons live in relative harmony. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly Briton couple, notice that everyone living in the region seems to suffer from amnesia. They decide to travel to a village several days away to see their son, whom they barely remember. During their first night of travel, the couple stays at a Saxon village, only to discover that two ogres had attacked some of the villagers and dragged off a boy named Edwin. A visiting Saxon warrior, Wistan, agrees to kill the ogres and rescue Edwin, but the latter is discovered to have a wound, believed to be an ogre-bite. The Saxons, owing to superstition, attempt to kill Edwin, but Wistan rescues him and joins Axl and Beatrice on their journey, hoping to leave Edwin at the son's village. The group heads toward a monastery to consult with Jonus, a wise monk, about Beatrice's illness. On the way, they meet the elderly Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, who was tasked decades ago with slaying the she-dragon Querig, but never succeeded. A Briton soldier sent by Lord Brennus attempts to kill Wistan and Edwin, but Wistan kills him. Sir Gawain, who considers Lord Brennus corrupt, offers to conceal the soldier's death. Wistan reveals that he was sent by the Saxon king to slay Querig out of concern that Querig would be tamed by Lord Brennus and employed to kill Saxons. The four travelers are treated with hospitality at the monastery, but are informed by Jonus that most of the monks are corrupt. Sir Gawain speaks to the abbot, believing he will protect the four. Instead, the abbot informs Lord Brennus, who sends thirty soldiers to have them murdered. Axl, Beatrice, and Edwin are thrown into a tunnel with a doglike monster, but are rescued by Sir Gawain. Meanwhile, Wistan kills the soldiers using traps. Axl and Beatrice, as they continue their journey, pass by Querig's lair, and are persuaded by a girl to bring a poisoned goat to the entrance, in the hope that Querig will die from eating the goat.
Sir Gawain, riding alone, recalls how King Arthur had ordered the extermination of entire villages of Saxon women and children. The massacre was a betrayal of the peace-treaties brokered by Axl, who was the king's envoy. King Arthur also ordered Sir Gawain, Merlin, and a few others to maim Querig and to cast a spell turning her breath into an oblivion-inducing mist, with the result that Saxons would forget about the massacres. Wistan and Edwin arrive at Querig's lair. Sir Gawain reveals that his duty was not to slay Querig, but to protect her. Wistan challenges Sir Gawain to a duel and kills him. He proceeds to slay Querig, causing the amnesia of all people to dissipate, and their memories to return, setting the stage for another war. In the final chapter, Axl and Beatrice recall that their son, who ran away from home, died during the black plague. A ferryman offers to take the couple to the island where their son is buried. The island supposedly has a curse which causes those who set foot to forget about the existence of other humans and to perpetually wander within the island's confines. However, the ferryman informs them that they qualify for a special dispensation where, if a couple's love is profound and genuine, their relationship will not be broken upon entering the island. That said, the boat can only transport one person at a time, so the ferryman must transport Beatrice first while Axl waits. Axl reluctantly accepts the decision, with the nagging suspicion that the ferryman has tricked them into separating forever.
The Buried Giant received generally positive reviews from critics. Not all critics praised the novel, however. James Wood writing for The New Yorker criticized the work, saying that "Ishiguro is always breaking his own rules, and fudging limited but conveniently lucid recollections."
Focusing on one single reading of its story of mists and monsters, swords and sorcery, reduces it to mere parable; it is much more than that. It 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.
In 2015, Random House Audio released an audiobook version of the novel, read by David Horovitch.
- Sutherland, John (21 February 2015). "The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro". The Times. Retrieved 31 January 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
- Alter, Alexandra (19 February 2015). "For Kazuo Ishiguro, 'The Buried Giant' Is a Departure". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
- "The Buried Giant". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
- Furness, Hannah (4 October 2014). "Kazuo Ishiguro: My wife thought first draft of The Buried Giant was rubbish". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
- "Bookmarks reviews of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro". LitHub. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
- Ulin L., David (27 February 2015). "In Ishiguro's 'The Buried Giant,' memory draws a blank". LA Times. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Wood, James. "The Uses of Oblivion". Retrieved 31 January 2018.
- Preston, Alex. "The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – review: 'Game of Thrones with a conscience'". Retrieved 7 December 2017.