The Buried Giant is the 7th novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Published this year, the novel comes 10 years after his 2005 book ‘Never Let Me Go’. Set in 6th century Britain, the book follows the journey of an old couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are out to meet their son. On the way to their son’s village they encounter a Saxon warrior, an ageing knight a la Don Quixote and lo and behold, a she dragon.
‘Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were still native to this land’ that’s how Ishiguro describes 6th century Britain and I am hooked. I have always loved fairy tales, the ones where you have huge castles, monsters, beautiful princesses who need rescuing and knights in shining armours. And the Buried Giant has plenty of these barring the beautiful princess, Oh wait that too, because Axl lovingly refers to his wife as ‘princess ‘.
The story begins with Axl trying to recall an old memory, because the Britons are affected by an Amnesia, wherein they are unable to remember things that happen even the day before. All he can recall is that his wife wanted to undertake a journey which he has been refusing to take, the reason for which he has forgotten. Axl decides they must take the journey that his wife has wished for so long and so the old couple sets out for their son’s village.
On the way they encounter a brave Saxon warrior Wistan, who is on a mission to slay the she dragon called Querig, Knight Gawain, an old knight of King Arthur, who also claims to be on a mission to slay the dragon, a monastery full of sinister priests and a couple of abandoned young children who seek the couple’s help to slay the dragon. We are told the Amnesia which has gripped the land is a result of the she dragon’s breath. Till the dragon lives, memories will evade the people. And so this old couple much on the insistence of Beatrice takes upon themselves the task of doing their bit in slaying the dragon.
Ishiguro’s language is simple yet descriptive. Be it the warren or the tunnels inside the hills where the Britons stay or the forest through which they journey or the old monastery with trap doors and underground tunnels, he paints a vivid picture. His characters are well etched out, be it the brave Wistan, the comical Knight Gawain or the old couple. In the mundane banter of Axl and Beatrice he brings out the love between the couple beautifully ‘They walked close together, Axl almost at his wife’s heels. Even so, throughout the crossing, Beatrice continued every five or six steps to chant, in the manner of a litany, the question: ‘Are you still there Axl?’ to which he would respond: ‘Still here, princess ’.
As the writer slowly unravels the secret of the Querig or Axl’s past you read on with rapt attention, waiting for the truth to reveal itself. Thus you journey along with Ishiguro’s characters through the forest, escape an imminent attack, risk your lives in crossing a tunnel filled with human bones and finally reach Querig’s lair. Then suddenly the writer decides to end the story way too fast and you are left asking for more. The final battle with she dragon is so easy, you wonder why anyone didn’t slay her before and save all the trouble. Similarly, the revelation of Axl’s past seems to find no purpose in the story.
The writer through the story brings forth the futility of war, where neighbour turns against neighbour despite years of togetherness ‘You see how in these parts it’s your kin and mine mingle village by village. Who among them would turn on neighbours loved since childhood?’…
…’Yet who knows what old hatreds will loosen across the land now?’
And maybe for this purpose, the author uses Amnesia to tell us how it is important for us to ‘forget and forgive?’ or perhaps he refer to revision of history to suit political agendas and ambition or does he hint at the degeneration of the human race when he says ‘Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, of something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget’ these are some of the questions left unanswered.
Do I recommend this book? Why not? it’s a great journey, full of adventures and unexpected twists, the only thing lacking however, is the purpose.