The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Four stars, read in June/July 2017.

I loved the premise and the atmosphere of the post-Arthurian setting, and found the first half of this book very engaging. It follows characters who live in sort of medieval villages of Britons and Saxons, and although no one seems to remember any specifics, we know it’s been a time of brutal conflicts between the two. There’s a mist that takes people’s memories, and that’s what starts our protagonists on their quest to find the adult son they haven’t seen in years. On the way, they meet other people with other quests, and pretty soon we start to realize that although technically we’ve been getting more information, we’re not much closer to understanding what is going on.

There were stylistic elements I didn’t care much for, like random changes of perspective (probably more of an issue in the audio, which is how I was reading), the strangely candid way everyone speaks, and, most particularly, Axl’s habit of calling Beatrice “princess” every five seconds (which is representative of the patronizing way every male character treats her, really, and that means every other character in the book because Beatrice is almost the only woman). I got a bit impatient with the third quarter of the book, but was surprised and re-engaged by the twist, and may possibly have shed a few tears at the end.

I found myself frequently wondering whether characters could be as naive as they seemed to be; I’m still not sure whether it was genuine or willful ignorance, but given what I know about the ending, I lean toward the latter. What a fascinating idea in this book, though; it asks questions about the tribalism in human nature, what makes up the substance of a relationship, and whether it’s possible for there to be peace without ignorance to protect it. When that title phrase appeared toward the end, I was so impressed by how skillfully it had been done. Talking about it makes me feel that I need to read it again, a little like when I left the theater after seeing The Prestige—now that I know, I need to go back and see if I can see it happen.

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