I was surprised when I read the description of The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro, inside the dust jacket. A tale set in the Dark Ages – that didn’t seem right for Ishiguro, whose books The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go are set in the recent past of living memory. But post-Roman Britain is a period rich with stories, half-real half-myth, the age of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, even if the reality was never the suits of armour versions we see on film and TV.
This is the tale of a simple quest, where an aging couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off to find their son. It should be an easy journey, just a few days at most until they reach his village and see him once more after many years. There is peace in the land between Britons and Saxons, brokered by the late King Arthur, so they hope not to encounter too many hazards.
As Axl and Beatrice set off on their journey, gradually we become aware that all is not quite what it seems. People have lost their memories; they are without a proper past. A mist has affected them, clouding their minds and devouring their pasts in a deep fog. It is against this mist that Axl and Beatrice continually battle, seeking to remember what has happened in their lives, to understand their feelings for one another and know who they really are. Is there something in their past that they would be better not to remember?
Ishiguro adopts an interesting position as the narrator of the tale, telling it from a modern perspective. I noticed this once or twice near the beginning of the novel, for example where he describes a palisade around a village as looking like a row of sharpened pencils. Then suddenly the narrators voice seems to vanish and we are left only with what the characters tell us.
The company on the quest begins to swell as all manner of people are encountered on the way, and Axl and Beatrice are beset by adventures and challenges we could never have imagined for them. It is a land and time in which it is quite normal to encounter ogres and dragons and a whole host of pixies, not to mention Sir Gawain, a remnant of Arthur’s court. But these are not the real story, just challenges to overcome or avoid as Axl and Beatrice try to clear the mist from their memories and understand their past.
An enchanting book, beautifully crafted with a story that curls itself around the readers emotions and leaves us spellbound. The pictures it paints in the imagination are vivid and lively. One of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time with a twisting and enigmatic ending that lingers hauntingly in your mind.