Friday, January 8, 2016

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried GiantI did not like this book.  I'd never heard of Ishiguro before reading it, but it was listed on an article about the best sci-fi/fantasy books of the year, and it was up for a Goodreads Choice Award for Fantasy in 2015, so hey, it had to be good!  Right?  Well, evidently a lot of people liked it, and Ishiguro is a celebrated author, having won a Booker prize and all, but I have to say that, based on this, I was not a fan.

The premise is that Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple living in a fantasized England in the era just after King Arthur, set out on a road trip to find their son, who they dimly remember moving away years ago.  They only dimly remember this because a sort of mist has taken over the land, dimming people's memories.  On the trip, they encounter a boatman and a widow, and learn that the boatman takes people to an island--but can only ferry one at a time, and couples who try to go get separated or not based on how they answer the boatman's questions about their relationships.  If they're separated, they never see each other again.  Frightened at the prospect of being separated at some point, Beatrice wants to find a way to dispel the mist.  They also pick up a Saxon warrior named Wistan and a young Saxon who's been run out of his town after being involved with some ogres.  Together, the group sets out to find Axl and Beatrice's son, though they keep getting sidetracked by things like questioning monks and slaying dragons.

I liked the world Ishiguro built here, with its realistic and fantasy elements blended together, but I didn't like the story itself.  It moved at a positively glacial pace, and the writing was so emotionally distanced from the characters that I couldn't really empathize with any of them.  Even when in situations that are life threatening, the characters maintain this distanced calm that doesn't seem to fit the conditions at hand.  And Axl had this really annoying habit of calling Beatrice "princess" in every sentence he spoke.  Dear lord, that was annoying.  A world with ogres, dragons, and other fiends roaming about, where even the birds seem to have turned against people, has such potential, and I really feel like Ishiguro didn't build it up to its full potential.  And so many things aren't answered!  What about the birds?  Why were they evil?  How the hell is the thing in the tunnel dragon spawn?  Are there more of them?  How are creatures like dragon spawn and ogres going to play into the coming conflict?  Ultimately, this whole thing was built up to something that was probably supposed to be death and the ending of a relationship, but it lacked emotion and urgency and left me picking away at it instead of devouring it whole-heartedly.

Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go has been lauded by many people, but I'm thinking that maybe fantasy isn't really his genre.  Fantasy readers like myself tend to look for certain things, I think, and those things were missing here because it's really meant to be more literary than fantasy...but I don't think it really manages to land itself firmly in either genre, and also doesn't blend the two well enough to really appeal to fans of both.  There are messages here, about memory and love and all that junk, but they're just too out there to be subtle and too preachy to be swept on past and enjoy the story for what it is.  All of the elements that I really would have liked to see were just sketched in at the edges, while the most boring people in the world were left as the central focus.  I wouldn't really recommend this one.

Oh, and despite the title and there being an actual buried giant at one point in the book, the story actually doesn't involve buried giants as anything other than a landmark.

2 stars, and those are entirely for the world and not for the story.

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