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The Buried Giant

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Set in  Sub-Roman Britain
Pages  352
Originally published  3 March 2015
Genre  Fantasy
Country  United Kingdom
3.4/5 Goodreads

Media type  Hardcover
ISBN  978-0-571-31503-1
Author  Kazuo Ishiguro
Page count  352
Preceded by  Nocturnes
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Similar  Kazuo Ishiguro books, Fantasy books

Kazuo ishiguro on his new novel the buried giant

The Buried Giant is a fantasy novel by British writer Kazuo Ishiguro, published in March 2015.


Kazuo ishiguro uncovers the buried giant

Plot summary

A third person omniscient narrator introduces the story and makes introductory comments throughout the novel, clearly addressing a more modern (if not modern) audience, for example by describing the differences between roads and houses in the story's time and ones the reader is familiar with. Several characters provide the perspective for the action of the novel.

The novel is set immediately after Arthurian Britain, with "Britons" living alongside Saxons. From the start, the novel introduces fantasy creatures, such as ogres. These are accepted as fact although they are seldom directly described or observed by the protagonists.

The story begins with Axl and Beatrice, an elderly (Christian) Briton married couple living in a communal agrarian village somewhat like a warren (partially carved into the hillside). Their love is obvious and Axl always addresses Beatrice as "princess". Although Axl and Beatrice are tolerated within the community and state they are still able to complete the tasks assigned them, there is evidence that they are of low social status (children taunt them, and the community takes away and forbids the couple's candle, forcing them to spend their nights in the dark). Axl observes that people seem to have a general problem with memory: he is unable to recall a kindly red-haired woman who has disappeared from the community, and observes the townsfolk forget about a missing child, Marta, they had been frantically searching for.

Beatrice, after an enigmatic encounter with a vagrant Saxon woman, agitates for the couple to visit their son in a nearby community (although at first, neither of the couple is sure they even have a son). Permission is granted and the couple start on the way to visit their son, whom they describe to third parties as an important man in his village who is eager to see them (despite a vague memory of a quarrel).

On the first night of travel, the couple stay at a Saxon village which has come under attack by two "fiends" (ogres). Men have been killed (or rendered senseless by fear), and a boy, Edwin, has been abducted. A visiting Saxon warrior from the East ("fenlands"), Wistan, successfully rescues Edwin and kills the attackers, although Edwin receives a wound, believed by the Saxons to be an ogre bite. The community wants to kill Edwin, but he is taken away by Wistan and Axl and Beatrice, with whom Wistan states he intends to leave Edwin (for them to take to their son's village). Axl and Beatrice have decided (after Beatrice seeing a medicine woman at the village) to journey to a nearby monastery so Beatrice can be assessed by the wise monk Jonus for a pain in her side. Wistan is curious about Axl to the point of staring at him, and questions Axl with questions suggesting he has met Axl before, although Axl denies this.

The four travellers successfully evade a guard of soldiers loyal to the (Briton) Lord Brennus, and meet Sir Gawain, nephew of the now-dead King Arthur. Gawain's current and long-standing mission has been to slay the "she-dragon" Querig, although as one of the elders in the Saxon village muses, Gawain does not appear to have given Querig any anxiety. Wistan asks Gawain if Gawain recognizes Axl, and though Gawain reacts as if he does, he denies knowing Axl. One of Brennus's soldiers catches up with the party and attacks Wistan, stating that Wistan's true purpose is to kill Querig, an allegation that angers Gawain (who nevertheless refuses to help the soldier fight Wistan, especially after the soldier implies he will also kill Edwin, Axl, and Beatrice). Wistan kills the soldier in combat, and the party (without Gawain) continue on to the monastery.

The monks receive the travellers ostensibly with hospitality, although Wistan points out that the monastery is obviously a former Saxon battlefort. The monk Jonus (fatally wounded by a penance ritual involving allowing himself to be fed on by wild birds, a penance all of the monks practice) examines Beatrice and appears to pronounce her well. Jonus also reveals that the "mist," or forgetfulness of the population, is due to Querig.

While at the monastery, soldiers loyal to Brennus (and summoned by Gawain) attack Wistan, though another monk offers the others a path to safety. Down in the passage, Gawain reveals himself and states that the monks want the three dead: the passage is inhabited by a beast which will kill them for the monks. Gawain balked at the plan and pledges to protect them, successfully killing a "demon dog" fantastic beast by beheading it in a passage filled with bones. Gawain also states that the wound on Edwin is actually a dragon wound (a small dragon had been used to torment Edwin during his captivity with the fiends but he fought it off) and will allow Wistan to find Querig. Wistan is last seen by the travellers fighting impossible odds at the monastery.

Having saved the couple and Edwin, Gawain advises the couple to travel by water to their son's village, while Edwin escapes to try and rejoin Wistan. Wistan had been saved (after utilizing some of the former battlefort's trick defences) by a faction of the monks led by Jonus, and the same faction of monks reunites Wistan with Edwin. After some discussion, the pair set out after Querig (although Edwin hopes to divert Wistan's path to find his abducted mother). Gawain, in a reverie, reveals the plot point that Merlin has cast a spell on Querig on Arthur's orders (during a massive battle between Briton and Saxon), and that Axl (or Axelas or Axelum as he was then called) had brokered a peace between Saxon and Briton, which ended with the Britons massacring the Saxon non-combatants (women, children, and elderly) which led to Axl's defection from Arthur. Gawain heads into the mountains where Querig resides.

Axl and Beatrice attempt to travel by water, but are attacked by pixies and almost overwhelmed. Barely surviving and leaving the water, they make their way into the mountains, where a young girl asks that they attempt to feed the family goat (which the young girl and her young brothers have fed poison) to Querig, killing Querig and allowing the girl's parents to remember they have a family. Axl and Beatrice, although clearly elderly and limited now, reluctantly agree to tether the goat near where Querig feeds. On their way to the spot (the "giant's cairn"), they are overtaken by Gawain, who assists them in bringing the goat. Gawain has a second reverie indicating that he is watching for Wistan, and expects to do battle with him.

Wistan and Edwin meet Gawain's party at the cairn, and Gawain reluctantly agrees to show the way to Querig's lair. He reveals that he is in fact Querig's protector, since Querig's breath causes forgetfulness and allows Saxon and Briton to live side by side (despite the British massacre of Saxon innocents). Gawain justifies his actions through this peace, although Wistan points out that it is a peace founded upon coercion and lies. Gawain and Wistan battle, and Wistan kills Gawain. Wistan then kills Querig, who is anticlimactically withered by age and unable to move, by decapitation. Before taking leave of the elderly couple, Wistan reveals that he will raise Edwin to be a vengeful and effective Saxon warrior without pity, and that now that the "mist" will dissipate, war will soon break out with Saxons slaughtering Britons in a war of conquest. The Buried Giant is a metaphor for the immensities that have been forgotten - buried, perhaps never to rise again, but yet leaving a lingering sense of remembrance. Edwin runs to Wistan, ignoring the elderly Britons' goodbyes, and remembering his promise to Wistan to hate all Britons, which appears initially to conflict him.

Throughout the novel, the moral conflict is mirrored in the troubles of Axl and Beatrice's relationship. On one hand, they feel that remembering their past will make their love truer, on the other, they worry that something in their past will ruin their current positive view of the relationship.

In the final chapter of the novel, Beatrice and Axl have recovered their memories. Their son died of plague, estranged by Beatrice's adulterous affair, and Axl refused to allow Beatrice to visit his grave. A ferryman (the narrator of the chapter) offers to take the couple to an island where they can see their son, and as has been a continuing theme throughout the novel, the couple must prove their true love to live together on the (obviously allegorical) island. The ferryman questions the couple separately, and assures them that they will be allowed to live together, although he insists that he ferry only Beatrice first. Axl finally accepts this decision, although he does not try to reconcile with the boatman (which he stated he would do), and the boatman does not seek his eye. The ending is therefore ambiguous.


The novel received mixed reviews from critics.

James Wood writing for The New Yorker criticized the work saying that "Ishiguro is always breaking his own rules, and fudging limited but conveniently lucid recollections."

Alex Preston writing for The Guardian was much more positive, writing: "Focusing on one single reading of its story of mists and monsters, swords and sorcery, reduces it to mere parable; it is much more than that. It is a profound examination of memory and guilt, of the way we recall past trauma en masse. It is also an extraordinarily atmospheric and compulsively readable tale, to be devoured in a single gulp. The Buried Giant is Game of Thrones with a conscience, The Sword in the Stone for the age of the trauma industry, a beautiful, heartbreaking book about the duty to remember and the urge to forget."


In 2015 Random House Audio released an audiobook version of the novel, read by David Horovitch.


The Buried Giant Wikipedia