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Friday, October 20, 2017

The Buried Giant (2015) by Kazuo Ishiguro


Book Review
The Buried Giant (2015)
 by Kazuo Ishiguro

  The Buried Giant was Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade and I think that it is fair to observe that it was practically a flop in terms of the initial critical reception.  I'm not sure how it sold, but I'd imagine it didn't do that well.  Then he goes and wins the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Boom. Instant revision.  The Nobel Prize for Literature is only given to active authors, and I would surmise that they like to give it to writers who are still at the top of their powers- if you follow the "inside baseball" type Nobel Prize for Literature information, you will learn that authors often have a Nobel Prize "window" that they age out of- basically, if you don't win it when you are on top, you will not win it as a "career achievement" award.

  I think it is perfectly acceptable to look at the last work published before the Nobe Prize for Literature is awarded and see it as the work that put a given author "over the top.'  So for Kazuo Ishiguro, that work is The Buried Giant, the same book that was, essentially, deemed a failure by critics not two years ago.  I remember being disappointed when I read those same reviews- at the time I still hadn't read any Ishiguro (and I still haven't read The Remains of the Day.)  I have read A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986.)   

  The awarding of a Nobel Prize for Literature is unmistakably a canon making experience.  First, it secures canonical status for anyone who wins and already has a sale track record in the English language publishing industry.  Second, any author who exists outside that universe gets a fair shot, classic works translated into English for the first time, new works get immediate translation and a decent marketing budget.   Ishiguro is firmly in the former category- an English writer (of Japanese ancestry) writing in English, with multiple hits and hit movie versions of the hit books.

  For an author like Ishiguro the questions is whether one has to go back, revisit his non-canonical works and perhaps add additional books.  It also puts all future and present books in the "must read" category, as far as potential canon status goes.   Clearly a short-term reevaluation of The Buried Giant is in order. It's a work of fantasy, squarely set in the literary Arthurian world/universe that it shares with books like The Once and Future King by T.H. White and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Despite abandoning the contemporary/historical realism of his other books and embracing the fantasy milieu, everything about The Buried Giant is unmistakably the work of Kazuo Ishiguro.   Characters drift around in a (literal in this book) fog of amnesia, living in the aftermath of the Arthurian wars where King Arthur (Briton) defeated his Saxon rivals.

  I don't believe I'm spoiling anything by revealing that The Buried Giant is an allegory for the very 20th century problem of ethnic cleansing and internecine civil war.  Telling a potential reader that fact does nothing to defeat the magic of the story, which revolves around Axl and Beatrice, an older couple living in a Britonic community.  They want to visit their son, who lives several days away by foot (only mode of travel in that period).  On the way they get pulled into various adventures, featuring several recognizable legendary Arthurian characters.  And, you know, based on him winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, you'd have to say that critics were wrong about it being a boring waste of time.  I was quite engrossed by the story.

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