• roadtrippers.com
  • This is a buried giant in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a writer who really tries the patience of his readers. First he made us wait ten years for his follow-up to Never Let Me Go. And it turns out to be The Buried Giant.

The first two-thirds of this book are a grim slog through an England that is olde, but not especially merrie. King Arthur is dead. The roads and villages have fallen into decay. Ogres plague the countryside and a strange mist is making everyone forget their history, both personal and political.

  • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Axl and Beatrice, the old couple at the center of the book, are not immune to this plague. They know they love each other very much, but they can’t remember how they ended up living together at the edge of a dilapidated settlement of Britons. At the outset of the story, however, they develop an odd feeling that they have a son living in a village a few days’ walk away and venture off in search of him.

Because this is a quest, they acquire companions—a Saxon warrior, an orphan boy, and a very old and cantankerous Sir Gawain, plus some livestock. They also meet mysterious characters who speak in riddles and appear to recognize Axl, and they have strange adventures that put them in mortal peril. There’s also a general sense of uneasiness, especially when Britons encounter Saxons, but there’s a stretch of about 150 pages during which all the action feels arbitrary and dreamlike and nothing makes very much sense.

This makes reading The Buried Giant an eminently frustrating experience, even if you remember Never Let Me Go and that Isiguro is a master of the slow burn. There’s a lot of early-medieval “Yonder lies the village of the Saxons” sort of dialogue that has been nearly impossible to take seriously since Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but Ishiguro’s smooth, confidence writing gives you a sense that you ought to trust that all this rambling around the gray and misty countryside serves some sort of higher purpose than the dull post-Arthurian fan fiction it appears to be. (As a matter of fact, Ishiguro gives you the sense that nothing in this story is who or what it appears to be.)

  • Jeff Cottenden
  • Ishiguro

Around page 200, though, the narrative fog finally starts to dissipate. And what it reveals is devastating.

Books like The Buried Giant are excellent arguments for the continued existence of book clubs. Some books are like quests and should not be undertaken alone. You’ll need a goad—or, at the very least, a deadline—to get you through the difficult spots, and then afterward, you’ll want someone to talk about what it all means.

Kazuo Ishiguro will be chatting about The Buried Giant with Aleksandar Hemon on Wed 3/25 at 6:30 PM at the University of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts. Tickets are $10, $30 with a book.