Book review by Catherine M. Weber
The popular endurance of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings works and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, followed by the recent successes of the Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, have made me wonder if fantasy has officially become a respected genre for literary fiction.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my wondering. The topic was central to the discussion during Kazuo Ishiguro‘s appearance as part of Harvard Book Store‘s author series and the book tour for The Buried Giant, his first novel in ten years. Renowned for The Remains of the Day, which became a much praised Merchant/Ivory film, and more recently for Never Let Me Go, about human cloning, which was adapted for film in 2010, it would have been difficult to predict where his next novel would be set and how it would be received.
The Buried Giant is set in post-Roman Britain, in which ogres and pixies play a part in everyday life. Some of Ishiguro’s fans have written that they would not read such a book, after the “serious literature” they expect from the Man Booker Prize winner. His response was to say that the popularity of the aforementioned fantasy series’ has opened up the possibility that these settings are now acceptable components of literature and that, “If I have to choose, I’m on the side of the ogres and pixies.” That Neil Gaiman reviews The Buried Giant for the New York Times Book Review, for the cover story no less, seems to indicate that he is on target.
The setting is really only that: the setting, and all of this chatter distracts from the real conversation, about memory, of countries and their people, who find it convenient to forget what might trouble them and make things uncomfortable.
The book opens with the main characters, Axl and Beatrice, an older married couple, beginning to remember that they have grown children outside of their own community, and until now, they have completely put out of their minds. They decide to find their son in a neighboring village. The story of their journey brings up questions of how selective memory can keep couples, communities, and countries blissfully ignorant. The Buried Giant is not a literal giant, but rather the elephant in the room.
Memory is the thread throughout much of his writing, which examines the implications of war, of human cloning and other difficult topics, and how cultures choose to forget or ignore them. His books have a quiet way of revealing those implications and this book is no different. Ishiguro’s writing is as good as ever and a novel that the reader won’t soon forget.
More reviews of this book: