I’ve only read Remains of the Day from Ishiguro’s ouevre, and while that novel is amazing it also clues us into I’m guessing is a fundamental trope of his – narrator problems. In RoD (in case you’ve forgotten), Stevens has obvious problems, and his narration becomes increasingly problematic as he tries to maintain his essential Englishness while his master, Lord Darlington, flirts with fascism. (I need another long post on our seemingly relentless desire for daddies in the form of fascist strong men to take care of us, but that will have to wait for another day).
The Buried Giant continues the theme of the unreliable narrator, as this time Axl and Beatrice, an elderly Briton couple, set out to seek their son, who might or might not exist. Britain is at a time of peace, but it is also clouded by some sort of mist that seems to prevent Saxons and Britons from remembering much of their past. As the couple travel, we figure out that they’re mis-remembering (thank you Roger Clemens) some important shit, and the people they run into, Gawain and a Saxon warrior named Wistan, are not being completely honest about their own motives.
- Ishiguro has gotten some criticism for writing a fantasy (I guess folks think he was inspired by George RR Martin because *spoiler alert* Gawain dies), but that’s not what this is at all. The Buried Giant is a metaphor (built on the weird chalk outline giant that is probably a 17th c. satire) for all that that brings us to war, rational, irrational, primal, civilized, and so on. Yes, there is a dragon in it, and some sort of strange wolf, but these figures are used as part of the structure of the metaphor itself.
- I understand that the unreliable narrator strategy can be over-used, but in this novel it kept my attention, because Ishiguro neatly threw me just enough hints for me to realize that something was wrong…
- As precious as it feels to talk about novelists doing *insert your pet grand narrative here*, I’m going to succumb to that temptation just a bit here. He may simply want to be able to use figures that his British (and obviously Anglo) audiences will immediately have associations with in order to use a bit of shorthand, but this return to an originary moment in British history (Gawain, Arthur, Merlin) with little mention of Romans (except for the ruins they leave behind) can’t be accidental. If he’s trying to understand the roots of British conflicts this return doesn’t do much good, but if he’s still concerned with the carnage among family that was World War I (and which leads directly to WWII) then having Merlin bewitch a dragon in order to cloud all of our memories, especially about that which makes us hate each other, sure is an interesting place to start.
- The wildness and strangeness in the novel (ferrymen who are thieves, fairies who attack boats, Wistan as some sort of primordial force of Saxon energy and pride, Gawain as a mythical figure of purity and goodness) felt nicely under-sketched. I wonder if the temptation is to turn this landscape into an environment dripping with detail and saturated with meaning, much like that found in any number of games (but especially the Halo series), but Ishiguro resisted.